Bill Gates’ secret energy company unveils solar breakthrough for industrial heat | RenewEconomy

Bill Gates’ secret energy company unveils solar breakthrough for industrial heat

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Bill Gates and co-investors hail new solar technology that can revolutionise – and displace fossil fuels – in production of cement and steel.

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Heliogen, an energy company which has been working in “stealth mode” with financial backing from Bill Gates and other high-profile environmental investors, has unveiled what it says is a breakthrough solar technology to provide industrial heat for the production of cement, steel and petrochemicals.

The company emerged from stealth mode this week after building and testing its new technology which it claims uses artificial intelligence and a large array of mirrors to reflect sunlight to a single target and generate temperatures greater than 1,000°C.

The basic concept of ‘concentrated solar power’ is not new, of course, but traditional CSP only generates temperatures up to 565°C.

Heliogen’s new patented “HelioMax” technology, on the other hand, generates temperatures in excess of 1,000°C – the levels needed the for these industrial processes.

Traditional industrial processes for producing cement, steel, and petrochemicals required fossil fuel energy generation to produce the higher temperatures necessary and are carbon intensive. For example, cement production currently accounts for over 7% of global CO2 emissions – a sizeable chunk of the planet’s untenable emissions.

However, by generating such levels of temperature generation, Heliogen’s HelioMax technology could replace fossil fuel generation in industrial processes, helping to dramatically reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

Further, Heliogen’s technology roadmap aims to increase temperature generation up to 1,500°C – a temperature which would allow it to perform CO2- and water-splitting to make 100% fossil-free fuels such as hydrogen or syngas.

The HelioMax technology uses a combination of advanced computer vision software to hyper-accurately align a large array of mirrors which in turn reflect sunlight to a single target.

The company describes it’s HelioHeat production method as a “patented closed-loop control system that makes our field of mirrors act as a multi-acre magnifying glass to concentrate sunlight.”

In addition to being able to generate heat enough for industrial processes, the company is also working to use its technology to create clean and renewable fuel, which it is calling HelioFuel.

Heliogen is backed by four high-profile investors including tech entrepreneur Bill Gates, Swaroop ‘Kittu’ Kolluri of Neotribe Ventures, Patrick Soon-Shiong of NantWorks, and Steve Case of Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Fund. The firm’s founder and chief executive officer is Bill Gross, a lifelong entrepreneur and founder of Idealab.

“The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Bill Gross, CEO and Founder, Heliogen, and Founder and Chairman, Idealab.

“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 percent 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,” added 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.”

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6 Comments
  1. Jon 2 weeks ago

    Is there any information on how this differs from other heliostat concentrator system?

    There’s only a couple of ways to increase the temperature I see (given the same mirror reflect acne) put in more mirrors to capture light from a bigger area or focus the mirrors more closely.

    The first one captures and concentrates more energy, the second one will raise the temperature more but on a smaller area.

    • Tom 2 weeks ago

      Their system increases accuracy. This is the hardest part for tower systems.
      Their website shows very good results but at short distances. This can be achieved without the fancy focusing logic.

    • solarguy 2 weeks ago

      Can’t see any difference at all Jon to what anyone else has done.

  2. Ian 2 weeks ago

    Experimentation and thought is needed to achieve the goal of decarbonising energy procurement that is for sure. But it’s not true that conventional renewables cannot achieve high temperatures. They certainly can, for example solar PV or wind derived electricity can be used to create hydrogen and that can burn at high temperatures, resistive heating can generate almost any industrial temperature you are to mention.

    The real question is how land efficient, cheap and long lasting is this accurate field of mirrors vs the conventional renewables?

    It amazes me that Bill Gates the phenomenally successful businessman with an altruistic heart in his give-it-all-away days should back such unproven technology when he could be backing the buildout of desperately needed lithium battery factories, or flooding Africa with solar panels or backing bus electrification or a Myriad other pieces in the decarbonising puzzle.

    For example he could build a $5 billion/35GWH a year self-sustaining Gigafactory to take 1/2 million petrol cars off the road every year, or use the output to construct stationary batteries sufficient to facilitate about 17GW of wind or solar plus battery storage onto the grid a year, or 80 000 electric buses a year.

    🎵What the world needs now is lithium, sweet lithium
    It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
    What the world needs now is batteries sweet batteries,
    No not just for some but for everyone.…🎵

    • solarguy 2 weeks ago

      I mostly agree Ian, especially with using conventional RE tech and H2. But keep in mind molten salt batteries are cheap. As for Bill Gates, he wants to sell to the world his tech only. I don’t think he has broken the mould here though!

  3. solarguy 2 weeks ago

    Not new tech at all that’s for sure! The CSIRO has been doing this and at those temperatures for years at Newcastle Energy Centre. And have been experimenting making Syngas for that long too!

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