A secretive startup backed by Bill Gates has achieved a solar breakthrough aimed at saving the planet.
Heliogen, a clean energy company that emerged from stealth mode on Tuesday, said it has discovered a 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.
Essentially, Heliogen created a solar oven — one capable of reaching temperatures that are roughly a quarter of what you’d find on the surface of the sun.
The breakthrough means that, for the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create the extreme heat required to make cement, steel, glass and other industrial processes. In other words, carbon-free sunlight can replace fossil fuels in a heavy carbon-emitting corner of the economy that has been untouched by the clean energy revolution.
“We are rolling out technology that can beat the price of fossil fuels and also not make the CO2 emissions,” Bill Gross, Heliogen’s founder and CEO, told CNN Business. “And that’s really the holy grail.”
Heliogen, which is also backed by billionaire Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, believes the patented technology will be able to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industry. Cement, for example, accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
“Bill and the team have truly now harnessed the sun,” Soon-Shiong, who also sits on the Heliogen board, told CNN Business. “The potential to humankind is enormous. ... The potential to business is unfathomable.”
Unlike traditional solar power, which uses rooftop panels to capture the energy from the sun, Heliogen is improving on what’s known as concentrated solar power. This technology, which uses mirrors to reflect the sun to a single point, is not new.
Concentrated solar has been used in the past to produce electricity and, in some limited fashion, to create heat for industry. It’s even used in Oman to provide the power needed to drill for oil. The problem is that in the past concentrated solar couldn’t get temperatures hot enough to make cement and steel.