Secretive Solar Energy Company Backed by Bill Gates Achieves Technology Breakthrough

Heliogen, a climate technology company backed by Bill Gates, billionaire philanthropist, and Patrick Soon-Shiong, biotech billionaire, has used AI to create a farm of concentrated solar power reaching temperatures equivalent to about a quarter of the temperature of the sun.

Heliogen CSP plant. Photo credit: Business Wire

"This is an existential issue for your children, my children, and our grandchildren"

-Patrick Soon-Shiong, biotech billionaire and major investor in Heliogen


Heliogen has manifested artificial intelligence and a field of solar-concentrating mirrors to create the most effective concentrated solar power (CSP) plant invented. Heliogen has essentially created a massive solar oven.


CSP works by a field of mirrors all angled so they reflect sunlight so they concentrate on one collector, which heats a fluid, which powers a turbine, that creates electricity. Traditionally, solar CSP is still. Heliogen, on the other hand, has created the panels, which they call heliostats, so that they are computer-controlled. These computer controlled panels are actually smaller than traditional CSP panels. Instead of increasing size, Heliogen used their artificial intelligence to have the panels move and accurately align themselves throughout the day, achieving optimal power relative to the sun. This is done through advanced computer vision software and automatic edge detection, among other technologies.


Heliogen wants to use their technology for standard clean energy applications, such as electricity and heating, as well as tackling a sector that traditional clean energy types have not handled: industry. Industrial emissions, including manufacturing emissions, account for 22% of 2017 greenhouse gas emissions. Cement, steel, glass, and others require heating materials, which currently emits greenhouse gas emissions. Heliogen offers an alternative that doesn't emit greenhouse gas emissions. Cement alone makes up for 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Energy Association. Beyond that, the manufacturing sector accounts for a large part of the global economy. By making it clean, it would dramatically increase clean energy investment.


"We are rolling out tech that can beat the price of fossil fuels and also not make CO2 emissions"

statement Heliogen founder and CEO, Bill Gross.


According to Bill Gross, the main problem Heliogen faces is convincing companies to switch too Heliogen. Heliogen will soon announce it's first customers after pitching their clean solutions. They call it a no-brainer: there are no carbon emissions, and it is cheaper. Another problem they face is the intermittency of the sun while industry needs energy 24/7. In response, Heliogen is currently working on developing high-tech storage systems.


In the future, Heliogen hopes to develop their technology to produce carbon-free hydrogen. This can create alternative fuels for trucks and airplanes, which are hard to make electric. Before that, Bill Gross wants to achieve large-scale application and go public. In the meantime, Heliogen relies on private investors, such as Patrick Soon-Shiong and Bill Gates.


"I'm pleased to have been an early backer of Bill Gross's novel solar concentration technology. It's capacity to achieve the high temperatures required for these processes is a promising development in the quest to one day replace fossil fuels"

said Bill Gates in a statement.


Bill Gross sums up the goals and appeals of Heliogen:

"The only way to compete [with fossil fuels] is to be extremely clever in how you use your materials. And by using software, we're able to do that."


Sources

Heliogen. “Press Release: Heliogen Achieves Breakthrough Temperatures from Concentrated Sunlight for Industrial Processes.” Heliogen, November 19, 2019. https://heliogen.com/press-release-heliogen-achieves-breakthrough-temperatures-from-concentrated-sunlight-for-industrial-processes-with-momentum-toward-commercial-hydrogen-fuel-creation/.


Egan, Matt. “Secretive Energy Startup Backed by Bill Gates Achieves Solar Breakthrough.” CNN. Cable News Network, November 19, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/19/business/heliogen-solar-energy-bill-gates/index.html.


“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, September 13, 2019. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.


“Cement Technology Roadmap Plots Path to Cutting CO2 Emissions 24% by 2050.” International Energy Agency, April 6, 2018. https://www.iea.org/newsroom/news/2018/april/cement-technology-roadmap-plots-path-to-cutting-co2-emissions-24-by-2050.html.

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