Transforming sunlight to create and replace fuels
21 November 2019
Recently launched clean energy company Heliogen, has – for the first time commercially – concentrated solar energy to exceed temperatures greater than 1,000ºC.
At that temperature, Heliogen 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 singular scientific achievement was accomplished at Heliogen’s commercial facility in Lancaster, California.
Heliogen’s mission is to create the world’s first 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 – taking a major step towards solving climate change. Its heat technology represents a key technical breakthrough for concentrated solar thermal. Previous commercial concentrating solar thermal systems have been designed to reach temperatures of up to only 565ºC – useful for power generation, but insufficient for many industrial processes. Many of these processes require much higher temperatures, which have traditionally been reached through the burning of fossil fuels.
The potential impact of Heliogen’s patented technology is massive. With temperatures from its concentrating solar thermal technology exceeding 1,000ºC, Heliogen will be able to replace the fuel that generates greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes with solar energy for the first time. For instance, cement production – one of the industrial processes well suited to Heliogen’s technology – alone accounts for more than 7 percent of global CO2 emissions.
In addition to industrial process heat, Heliogen’s technology roadmap calls for temperatures up to 1,500ºC. At that temperature, Heliogen can perform CO2-splitting and water-splitting to make 100 percent fossil-free fuels such as hydrogen or syngas.
Heliogen is able to achieve these breakthrough temperatures as a result of its technology that uniquely uses advanced computer vision software to hyper-accurately align a large array of mirrors to reflect sunlight to a single target. The firm’s founder and chief executive officer is Bill Gross, a lifelong entrepreneur and founder of Idealab. The Heliogen team includes scientists and engineers from Caltech, MIT, and other leading institutions and is based in Pasadena, California.
Heliogen is working with Parsons Corporation (NYSE: PSN), a global leader in the defence, intelligence, and critical infrastructure markets. Parsons, Heliogen’s strategic partner, has more than a decade of experience with the development and implementation of 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, 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,” 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.”