22nd November 2019
Solar breakthrough creates 1,000°C for industrial processes
Heliogen – a secretive energy company backed by Bill Gates – this week emerged from stealth mode, to reveal a major new breakthrough in concentrated solar.
Heliogen, a new clean energy company, this week announced its launch and that it has – for the first time commercially – used concentrated solar energy to exceed 1,000 degrees Celsius. At that temperature, Heliogen's technology can replace the use of fossil fuels in critical industrial processes, including the production of cement, steel, and petrochemicals, dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from these activities. This major scientific achievement was accomplished at Heliogen's commercial facility in Lancaster, California.
The company's mission is to create technology that can commercially replace fossil fuels with carbon-free, ultra-high temperature heat from the Sun and to transform sunlight into fuels at scale – a major step towards solving climate change. Its heat technology represents a key technical milestone for concentrated solar thermal. Previous commercial systems have reached a maximum of only 565 degrees Celsius – useful for power generation, but insufficient for many industrial processes that require much higher temperatures and have traditionally been reached through the burning of fossil fuels.
The potential impact of Heliogen's breakthrough is enormous. For instance, cement production alone – an industrial process well suited to this technology – accounts for more than 7% of global CO2 emissions. Heliogen can achieve these very high temperatures by deploying advanced computer vision software to hyper-accurately align a large array of mirrors that reflect and focus sunlight onto a single target. In addition to industrial process heat, Heliogen's future roadmap includes a plan for even greater temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees Celsius. If that can be achieved, CO2-splitting and water-splitting could produce 100% fossil-free fuels, such as hydrogen or syngas.
One problem with solar is that the Sun doesn't always shine, yet industrial companies like cement makers have a constant need for heat. Heliogen says it would solve that issue by relying on storage systems that can hold the solar energy for rainy days.
The firm's founder and chief executive is Bill Gross, who also founded Idealab. Another of his companies, Energy Innovations, completed the world's largest corporate solar installation at Google's headquarters. The Heliogen team includes scientists and engineers from Caltech, MIT, and other leading institutions and is based in Pasadena, California. Heliogen is collaborating with a strategic partner, Parsons Corporation – a global leader in the defence, intelligence, and critical infrastructure markets – which has more than a decade of experience in creating innovative solar thermal projects.
"As a company, we deliver sustainable solutions to our customers and we look forward to bringing Heliogen's breakthrough technology to scale with our industry partners," said Michael Chung, Vice President of Energy Solutions, Parsons Corporation.
"The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Bill Gross, CEO and Founder, Heliogen. "We've made great strides in deploying clean energy in our electricity system. But electricity accounts for less than a quarter of global energy demand. Heliogen represents a technological leap forward in addressing the other 75% of energy demand: the use of fossil fuels for industrial processes and transportation. With low-cost, ultra-high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis."
"Today, industrial processes like those used to make cement, steel, and other materials are responsible for more than a fifth of all emissions," said Bill Gates. "These materials are everywhere in our lives, but we don't have any proven breakthroughs that will give us affordable, zero-carbon versions of them. If we're going to get to zero carbon emissions overall, we have a lot of inventing to do. I'm 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."