Heliogen, a clean energy company that is supported by the founder of Microsoft and usually stays out of the spotlight, announced this week that it has achieved a goal that many believed impossible: use sunlight to generate more than 1,000 degrees Celsius. The discovery could be applicable to industries previously believed to be dependent on natural gas, thereby reducing polluting emissions.
We are deploying technology that can improve fossil fuel prices and prevent CO2 emissions [product of other technologies], and that is really the Holy Grail of this sector
Bill Gross, founder and CEO, Heliogen
Heliogen’s team created a “solar oven” by using artificial intelligence that handles the individual movement of a field of mirrors. This combination is capable of reflecting enough sunlight at a concentric point to reach 1,000 degrees, the necessary temperature in the cement, steel and glass industries, among others.
Prior to the announcement by Heliogen, experts in the sector considered it difficult to reduce emissions in these industries, which represent between 20 and 25% of global carbon emissions, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Bill Gates described success as “an important step in the mission to completely replace fossil fuels.”
The company also explained that it is working on an energy storage system so that its technology can be used even on cloudy days, and said it is engaged in a race to demonstrate that its methods can be used in highly demanding large-scale industries.
Even if we eliminate the use of fuels only during the day we can have a huge impact on CO2 reduction. Some of these companies are looking for ways to reduce their emissions by 1, 2 or 3%. If we are able to place our equipment on the ground next to it and run it for eight hours a day we are already reducing its emissions and consumption by 33%
Heliogen’s secret weapon
Heliogen’s secret weapon to convince companies of the viability of its technology is the low input costs: once the solar field is acquired, the expenses in coal or natural gas that currently exist in the industry are eliminated.
Heliogen will offer its potential customers the option of hiring the company and paying only for the energy used (at a lower price than fossil alternatives), or buying the equipment and operating it independently, with an investment they calculate will be amortized in three years.
About the process
The process used by Heliogen worked on the first attempt, and has other positive effects: according to the company itself, the temperature reached could be used to produce clean hydrogen on a large scale, which could be used to drive cargo trucks or even airplanes. Gross considered that the production of green hydrogen would be a paradigm shift in the industry, and revealed that this is the ultimate goal of his company.
Also published on Medium.