Heliogen, a secretive clean energy startup backed by Bill Gates, achieves a solar breakthrough by replacing fossil fuels with sunlight
Heliogen, a clean energy tech startup that wants to “replace fuels with sunlight” and backed by Bill Gates, emerged from stealth mode on Tuesday. The company announced today it has discovered a new way to use artificial intelligence to “create the world’s first technology that can commercially replace fuels with carbon-free, ultra-high temperature heat from the sun.” Heliogen has discovered a new way to use artificial intelligence and a field of mirrors to reflect so much sunlight that it generates extreme heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius.
For the first time commercially, Heliogen was able to “concentrate solar energy to exceed temperatures greater than 1,000 degrees Celsius.” 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.
Consists of team of scientists and engineers from Caltech, MIT, and other leading institutions, Heliogen’s mission is to create the world’s first technology that can commercially replace fossil fuels in industrial processes with carbon-free, ultra-high temperature heat from the sun and to transform sunlight into fuels, including hydrogen, at scale – taking a major step towards solving climate change. Its heat technology represents a key technical breakthrough for concentrated solar thermal.. Heliogen was created at Idealab, the leading technology incubator.
Previous commercial concentrating solar thermal systems have been designed to reach temperatures of up to only 565 degrees Celsius – 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 1,000 degrees Celsius, 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 1,500 degrees Celsius. At that temperature, Heliogen can perform CO2-splitting and water-splitting to make 100 percent fossil-free fuels such as hydrogen or syngas.
“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.”
Other investors in Heliogen include venture capital firm Neotribe and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the Los Angeles-based investor and entrepreneur, through his investment firm, Nant Capital, a division of NantWorks. Neotribe’s founder and managing director, Swaroop ‘Kittu’ Kolluri, and Dr. Soon-Shiong have joined Heliogen’s board of directors.
“For the sake of our future generations we must address the existential danger of climate change with an extreme sense of urgency,” said Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, Chairman and CEO of NantWorks, and member of the board of directors, Heliogen. “I am committed to using my resources to invest in innovative technologies that harness the power of nature and the sun. By significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating a pure source of energy, Heliogen’s brilliant technology will help us achieve this mission and also meaningfully improve the world we leave our children.”