Startup backed by billionaires creates superhot solar power
- Heliogen, a startup backed by Bill Gates and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, announces a solar energy breakthrough.
- The company's array of mirrors generated heat of 1,000 degrees Celsius, nearly twice as much as before.
- The startup aims to utilize the technology in industrial processes, significantly reducing gas emissions.
Heliogen, a solar-energy company backed by the the world’s richest man, Bill Gates, claims to have made a renewable energy breakthrough. The company’s array of mirrors generated a tremendous heat of 1,000 degrees Celsius, showing promise in replacing fossil fuels in major industrial processes.
The company is gearing its tech towards plants that manufacture cement, petrochemicals or steel. The replacement of fossil fuels in such industries could potentially lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that have been linked to climate change. Re-powering cement production alone with solar could wipe out up to 7% of carbon dioxide emissions around the world.
The way Heliogen’s mirrors work is by concentrating light towards a point on a liquid-filled tower. This heats up the tower, creating thermal energy that can fuel a heat engine. Previous solar thermal systems would only go to 565 degrees, not producing enough power for many industrial operations that have achieved the required heat by burning up fossil fuels.
The company’s system of mirrors is also noteworthy for its AI backend, supported by computer vision software that can align the large mirror array with precision to reflect sunlight onto a target. Of course, one wonders if this is going to have military applications.
Heliogen was founded by its CEO – the entrepreneur Bill Gross, who also founded Idealab. He called what Heliogen achieved “a technological leap forward” that can address about 75% of the world’s energy demand that is currently not being served by clean energy.
“The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Gross, adding “With low-cost, ultra-high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis.”
Bill Gates, who invested into the company, said in a press release he was “pleased to have been an early backer of Bill Gross’s novel solar concentration technology. Its capacity to achieve the high temperatures required for these processes is a promising development in the quest to one day replace fossil fuel.”
Based in Pasadena, California, the startup is staffed by scientists and engineers from top technical insinuations like Caltech and MIT. Among its other investors is the billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and the venture capital firm Neotribe.
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What’s next for the startup? Having cracked 1,000 degrees, Heliogen aims to achieve temperates of up to 1,500 degrees Celsius. That amount of heat is necessary to make 100-percent fossil-free fuels like hydrogen or syngas. “If you can make hydrogen that’s green, that’s a gamechanger,” explained Gross to CNN. “Long term, we want to be the green hydrogen company.”