Renewable Energy startup!
A secret startup backed by Bill Gates has achieved a solar breakthrough aimed at saving the planet.
Heliogen is a clean renewable energy company that rose from the shadows. Recently, says it has found a way to utilize artificial intelligence and a range of mirrors to reflect a large amount of sunlight that produces excessive heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius.
Naturally, Heliogen invented a solar oven. One competent enough to reach temperatures that are roughly a quarter of what you will find on the surface of the sun.
The Renewable Energy startup breakthrough implies that, for the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create extreme heat. The heat will be in use to make cement, steel, glass, and other industrial means. In other words, carbon-free sunlight can substitute fossil fuels in a heavy carbon-emitting corner of the economy that has been untouched by the clean energy substitution.
“We are rolling out technology that can surpass the price of fossil fuels and also abstain from CO2 emissions.” Bill Gross, Heliogen’s founder, and CEO. “And that’s the holy grail.”
Heliogen, which is also financed by billionaire Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, believes the patented technology will be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cement, for instance, accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
“Bill and the team have positively now harnessed the sun,” Soon-Shiong, who also sits on the Heliogen board, says. “The potential of this renewable energy to humankind is enormous, and the potential to business is boundless.”
Different from the traditional solar power, which utilizes rooftop panels to trap the energy from the sun, Heliogen is improving on what’s known as concentrated solar power. This technology, which employs mirrors to reflect the sun to a single point, is not an innovation.
Concentrated solar has been adopted in the past to generate electricity. Oman still uses it to render the power it needs to drill for oil.
The challenge is that in the past, concentrated solar couldn’t generate temperatures hot enough to make cement and steel.
“You’ve ended up with technologies that can’t deliver super-heated systems,” said Olav Junttila. Olav is a partner at Greentech Capital Advisors. Greentech is a clean energy investment bank that has apprised concentrated solar companies in the past.
“If we go to a cement company and say we’ll give you green heat, no CO2, but we’ll also save you money, then it becomes a no-brainer,” said Gross.
Applying artificial intelligence In Solving Climate Challenges
Renewable energy has not yet meddled with industrial processes such as cement and steelmaking. And that’s a problem because the world has an insatiable appetite for those materials. Cement, as we know, is in use for making the concrete we require to build homes, hospitals, and schools. These industries are accountable for more than a fifth of global emissions, according to the EPA.
This is why the potential of Los Angeles-based Heliogen enticed investment from Gates, the Microsoft (MSFT) co-founder.
“I am glad to be an early patron of Bill Gross’s innovative solar concentration technology,” Gates said in a statement. “Its potential to achieve the high temperatures required for these processes is a promising advancement in the quest to one-day substitute fossil fuel.”
While other concentrated solar companies tackled this temperature problem by combining steel to make the technology stiffer and sturdier. Heliogen and its team of scientists and engineers turned to artificial intelligence.
Heliogen uses computer vision software, automatic edge detection, and other advanced technology to train a field of mirrors to reflect solar beams to one single spot.
“If you take a thousand mirrors and have them align exactly to a single point, you can achieve extremely high temperatures,” Gross said. He also added that the Renewable Energy startup made its breakthrough on the first day it turned its plant on.
Heliogen said it is generating so much heat that its technology will ultimately use in creating clean hydrogen at scale. This carbon-free hydrogen could then be converted into fuel for trucks and airplanes.
“If you can make hydrogen that’s green, that’s a gamechanger,” said Gross. “Long term, we want to be the green hydrogen company.”
Presently, Heliogen’s only focus is on solar. But one problem with solar is that the sun does not always shine. Yet, industrial companies like cement makers have a continuous need for heat. Heliogen said it would solve that problem by relying on storage systems that can keep the solar energy for rainy days.
Heliogen will focus on confirming how technology can apply in a large-scale application, such as making cement.
“We are in a race. We want to scale up as fast as possible,” said Gross.
After a large-scale application, Soon-Shiong says Heliogen will be ready to go public.
In the meantime, Heliogen will need a healthy dose of capital to scale. And they are currently working with investors on secret funding. Soon-Shiong indicated he plans to invest more in Heliogen. Heliogen has declined to provide information on how much funds it has raised so far.
“This is an important issue for your children, for my children and our grandchildren,” Soon-Shiong said.
Heliogen’s greatest challenge will be convincing industrial companies using fossil fuels to make the investment required to switch over. Gross said the company has been talking to potential customers privately and plans to announce its first customers soon.
Its most notable selling point is the fact that, unlike fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas, sunlight is free. And Heliogen claims its technology is already economical against fossil fuels because of its faith in AI.
“The only way to compete is to be remarkably intelligent on how you use your materials. And by using the software, we’re able to do that,” Gross said.