Bill Gates-backed Startup Announces Clean Energy Breakthrough

Said to be The Holy Grail of clean energy, it generates no emissions and is cheaper than fossil fuels.

Heliogen, a startup backed by Bill Gates, announced a breakthrough solar energy technology.  It uses artificial intelligence and mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight to generate ultra-high temperatures. However, the technology could be a boon for heavy industry.

‘Dirty’ industries such as steel-making, cement, glass, mining, and heavy machinery need these super-hot temperatures in their manufacturing processes. Unfortunately. these energy-intensive operations, generally fossil-based, have a substantial carbon footprint. Cement accounts for 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to statistics from the International Energy Agency.

However, so far, these CO2 emitters have been relatively slow to adopt clean and renewable energy. As a result, they are falling short on increasingly important ESG benchmarks and landing upon investors’ exclusion lists.

Heliogen’s ‘solar oven,’ if you can call it that, reaches temperatures approximately a quarter of that found on the sun’s surface. It does this using free sunlight. If the patented technology is commercialized and scaled up, it would rapidly be put to use in heavy industry.

Heliogen: The Holy Grail of clean energy

Heliogen has improved upon existing ‘concentrated solar power’ technology to reflect sunlight accurately to a single point. However, so far, this technology was unable to generate temperatures high enough to use in the cement and steel industries.

What Heliogen did differently was to add artificial intelligence to the mix. It uses computer vision software, automatic edge detection, and other sophisticated technology to train a bank of mirrors to reflect solar beams to one single spot accurately.

“If you take a thousand mirrors and have them align exactly to a single point, you can achieve extremely, extremely high temperatures,” Bill Gross, Heliogen’s founder, and CEO told CNN Business.

“We are rolling out technology that can beat the price of fossil fuels and also not make the CO2 emissions. And that’s really the holy grail.”

Green hydrogen

Meanwhile, the ultra-high temperatures generated by Heliogen can be harnessed, at some time, to manufacture clean hydrogen in commercial volumes. This hydrogen can power trucks, airplanes, and factories.

“Long term, we want to be the green hydrogen company,” says Gross.

[Related Story:  ESG investing using artificial intelligence ]

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January 29, 2020

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