The Heliogen firm managed to generate extreme solar heat that could be used in the production of steel and cement without polluting emissions.
A very reserved startup backed by Bill Gates, has achieved a solar advance to save the planet. Heliogen is a company that recently discovered a way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to reflect so much sunlight that it generates extreme heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius.
Heliogen created a solar oven capable of reaching temperatures that are approximately a quarter of what we would find on the surface of the sun. The breakthrough means that, for the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass and other industrial processes. This could replace fossil fuels in a corner of the economy that emits a lot of carbon and has not been touched by the clean energy revolution.
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Heliogen, which also has the backing of Los Angeles Times billionaire owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, believes that patented technology can drastically reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. Cement, for example, represents 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
Unlike traditional solar energy, which uses roof panels to capture energy from the sun, Heliogen is improving what is known as concentrated solar energy. This technology has been used in the past to produce electricity and, in a limited way, generate heat for the industry. It is even used in Oman to provide the power needed to extract oil, only in the past it could not reach temperatures high enough to produce cement and steel.
That’s why the potential of Los Angeles-based Heliogen attracted the investment of Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, who recently surpassed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as the richest person in the world.
“I am pleased to have been one of the early sponsors of Bill Gross’s new solar concentration technology,” Gates said in a statement. “Their ability to reach the high temperatures required for these processes is a promising development in the quest to replace fossil fuel one day.”
Heliogen said it is generating so much heat that its technology could eventually be used to create clean hydrogen at scale. That carbon-free hydrogen could become fuel for trucks and airplanes. “If we can make hydrogen green, that will change the game,” said Bill Gross, founder and CEO of Heliogen. “In the long term, we want to be the green hydrogen company”.
Its main attraction is the fact that, unlike fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, sunlight is free. And Heliogen argues that its technology is already economical compared to fossil fuels due to its dependence on artificial intelligence. “The only way to compete is to be extremely intelligent in the way you use your materials. And by using software, we can do it”, Gross said.
Also published on Medium.