Heliogen, a clean energy company supported by Bill Gates and Patrick Soon-Shiong, this week claimed it has achieved a breakthrough in concentrated solar energy that could replace the fossil fuels used in heavy-emissions processes such as making cement, steel, glass and petrochemicals.
Heliogen’s solar technology can now exceed temperatures greater than 1,000 degrees Celsius, and be sold commercially, the company says. One analysis called the development the first solar high-heat “oven” for these key industrial purposes.
Vox termed the announcement by a California-based Heliogen that’s been operating largely in secret before Tuesday’s rollout a “genuine innovation.” Vox describes how the technology, based on concentrating solar power, or CSP, works.
The zero-carbon swap to solar could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in these industries as electricity, transportation and buildings are three of the biggest emitters, EPA data shows. Cement alone accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
The technology, which directs mirrors to reflect the sun to a single point, is not new, but achieving such temperatures consistently, boosted by artificial intelligence in directing the mirrors, marks the major achievement. Previous commercial-sized concentrating solar thermal systems have been designed to reach temperatures of up to only 565 degrees Celsius, which is useful for power generation but insufficient for many industrial processes. Their required higher temperatures have traditionally been reached only through burning fossil fuels, including oil and natural gas. Oman even uses such solar technology, at the previously achieved temperatures, to power its oil drilling.
“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,” said Bill Gross, Heliogen CEO, in a release. “With low-cost, ultra-high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis.”