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U.S. Startup Heliogen Improves Solar Thermal Systems Temperature Capability and Retention

November 29, 2019 by Luke James

Clean energy company Heliogen uses advanced computer vision to reflect sunlight onto a target. It is thought that this method could be used to replace fossil fuels in key industrial processes.

Heliogen, a relatively unknown US start-up backed by Bill Gates, recently announced that it had developed a new technique for creating concentrated solar energy that could be used to replace fossil fuels in certain industrial processes.

Heliogen is a clean energy company that is focused on eliminating the need for fossil fuels by replacing it with sunlight and enhanced solar thermal systems. Using patented technology, Heliogen is solving the world’s “CO2 problem” by providing energy to historically dirty processes with clean, renewable sunlight. 


Enhanced Solar Thermal Systems

Using their patented technology and processes—HelioMax, HelioHeat, and HelioFuel—the company provides clean energy to inherently ‘dirty’ industry. 

In mid-November, however, Heliogen announced that it had discovered a new way to leverage AI and what is literally a field of mirrors to reflect so much intense sunlight that it generates “extreme heat” of over 1,000 degrees Celsius. 

Essentially, this creates a solar oven with so much concentrated solar energy that is capable of powering industrial processes such as the making of cement, steel, and glass, a corner of the industry that is a major polluter and has, until now, been virtually untouched by the so-called clean energy revolution. 

Bill Gross, Heliogen’s founder and CEO, said, "We are rolling out technology that can beat the price of fossil fuels and also not make the CO2 emissions,"

Unlike traditional rooftop solar panels, Heliogen is improving on what is known as ‘concentrated solar panel’ that uses mirrors to reflect the sun to a single point. While nothing new—concentrated solar panel has been used in the past to produce electricity—it has never been able to achieve temperatures hot enough to replace the burning of fossil fuels in key industrial processes. 

By using AI and advanced computer vision software, Heliogen was able to align a vast collection of mirrors to accurately reflect the sun’s light onto a single target.


Heliogen solar panels.

Close-up camera shot of Heliogen’s concentrated solar panels. Image Credit: Heliogen.


Filling Energy Demands Across Key Sectors

Gross hopes for Heliogen to become the “operating system for solar concentration”. However, for this to be possible, Heliogen must prove that its successful demonstration can be replicated en masse and turned into a sustainable business model. If this ends up being the case, the company could find itself filling energy demands across key sectors of industry. 

To be successful, Heliogen will need customers to have a serious drive for the reduction of their respective greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, given the company’s slim target market—companies that burn dirty fuels to produce heat for manufacturing—and the fact that potential customers will need manufacturing facilities in hot, dry, and arid regions for concentrated solar panel to work at optimal levels, drumming up interest could prove to be difficult.  

Although Heliogen recognizes this, Gross said, “Our goal is to make our heat cheaper than burning fuel, and then the carbon benefit is just gravy on top,”

Heliogen believes that future applications of this process could bring dial up the heat as high as 1,500 degrees Celsius. This would be hot enough to perform water splitting in the production of 100% fossil-free fuels such as syngas and hydrogen.

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