Oil Recovery Using Solar-to-Steam Technology

Tucked into California’s San Joaquin Valley, the Coalinga Field is in one of America’s oldest oil fields. It spans more than 100 football fields, and features 7,644 mirrors affixed to 3,622 heliostats that capture the sun’s solar energy. It is the world’s largest solar-enhanced oil-recovery project. 
BrightSource Energy's solar-enchanced oil-recovery project.
BrightSource Energy, Inc. contracted PCL to erect a four-column, 327-foot structural steel tower that would house a solar boiler. The one-of-a-kind system uses mirrors to focus the sun’s energy onto a solar boiler.
The solar-powered generator (a prototype for generating electricity) uses the sun’s energy to convert heated water to steam that is then used to heat the crude. This new technology changes how steam is generated by tapping into California’s most abundant natural resource—the sun. 


Build pads were assembled on the ground for the modules to be constructed in 40-foot-tall sections. During the tower compilation, several jigs and lifting apparatuses had to be used for the large crane lifts. The 66-foot-tall boiler was mounted on top the tower platform, requiring extensive scaffolding both inside and outside the tower walls.
“Each lift we performed we got the entire team involved. We would take polls on how much each lift weighed—with the largest being the boiler, which was in excess of 5,000 pounds,” said Brad Magby, PCL superintendent.


Because this project focused on new and emerging technologies, the team worked with various prototypes, which required them, at times, to find innovative solutions and be able to adapt quickly to changes.
A special team trained in high-angle rescues was needed on the project, as the site required approximately 120 people to work in a space that was less than 80 feet square. “There were people at every level of the tower,” said Ron Sitton, PCL project manager. “Managing that small amount of space required a lot of preplanning and constant awareness of the other contractors around you.”
The boiler was designed and manufactured for BrightSource Construction Management by Ansaldo Caldiae SpA.