Energy Start-Up Backed By Bill Gates Announces Breakthrough In Concentrated Solar Power
We may be on the verge of a breakthrough in the clean energy sector! A company backed by Bill Gates has recently succeeded in generating temperatures that have touched the magic figure of 1,000° (1,832 F) through the use of concentrated solar power.
The promoters shrouded the project in secrecy till the last moment. The reticent start-up has now emerged from the shadows out into the limelight with its use of clean solar energy. Such high temperatures have huge potential in the high-energy consuming cement and steel industries. These two industries together consume a fifth of the world’s production of conventional fuel. The transport and industry together make up 75% of the world’s carbon footprint.
Heliogen, the startup has revealed that it has managed to utilize artificial intelligence to achieve this feat. The AI controls a vast array of mirrors to focus concentrated solar power into a single spot. They have thus generated temperatures exceeding 1,000°. Never before have scientists successfully concentrated solar energy to generate such extreme temperatures. It is required in the steel, cement, and glass industries. These industries emit high carbon and so far have been outside the world of clean energy because of their requirement of such high temperatures.
The energy created by this breakthrough technology is clean as it meets the CO2 emission norms. It is also cheaper than fossil fuels, Heliogen’s founder cum CEO, Bill Gross told CNN.
Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of the Los Angeles Times is also behind Heliogen. He believes that this form of energy, once patented, will succeed in drastically cutting down on the greenhouse gas emission levels from these high-energy consumption industries. For instance, the cement industry alone is responsible for around 7% of world CO2 emissions as per the International Energy Agency.
This technology used to harness solar power is different from the methods traditionally used. While the norm so far has been to use rooftop panels to harness the energy, Heliogen is leaning on the use of concentrated solar power. Mirrors are used to concentrate energy onto a single spot to create extremely high temperatures.
Concentrated solar power has been in use for quite some time to generate electricity and even heat for some industries. In Oman, this power is used to drill for oil. But the temperatures generated so far were never sufficient the steel or cement industries.
The Use Of Artificial Intelligence
Solar energy was thus outside the ambit of the heavy energy-consuming industries. But these are industries that consume a huge chunk of the energy generated through conventional methods, because of the huge demand for such products. Together these industries account for 20% of global emissions as per reports of EPA.
It is this huge potential in an unrealized sector that has attracted Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Bill Gates is obviously pleased to have backed research for the innovative use of artificial intelligence for concentrated solar power. The success in achieving the temperature necessary for these industries has the exciting potential of using concentrated solar energy in the temperature-incentive sector. He is confident that HelioHeat could, in the not so distant future, replace fossil fuels.
The company has used automatic edge detection and computer vision software and other cutting edge technologies. These have managed to concentrate the power of solar heat towards a single spot using mirrors. They have synchronized thousands of mirrors to concentrate all their solar powers to a single point. It is thereby possible to attain enormously high temperatures, said Gross. He revealed that Heliogen managed to achieve the breakthrough on the very first day they switched on the plant.
Heliogen has said that they have succeeded in efficiently generating such extreme heat. They are also confident that they can also economically generate clean hydrogen. This hydrogen, which is carbon-free, could be used as fuel in the transportation and aviation industries.
Heliogen is concentrating solely on solar. A constant challenge is the unavailability of continuous sunshine. That brings in the question of storage of energy for consumption during these periods. Industries such as cement and steel require a constant source of energy. Heliogen plans to solve that part of the challenge by coming up with systems and technology that could store energy for such rainy days.
The company has successfully demonstrated that this technology is feasible. Their next step is to prove that this technology is viable and practicable on a massive scale for these energy-intense industries. The company wants to scale fast, says Gross.
The next step after succeeding in the application of this technology on a large scale is public funding. Heliogen needs capital infusion and is in talks with investors for a round of private funding. While Soon-Shiong has expressed his intention to further invest in Heliogen, the company has not released information on the capital it has managed to raise so far.
Emission-free energy is the need of the hour as emission levels continue to hit the roof. The biggest challenge for Heliogen will be to convince these industries to make a switch-over. The company says that they are already in talks with several companies and will make an announcement soon. The technology for concentrated solar power has huge potential. It is an endless source of energy with zero-emission levels and one that costs less than fossil fuels. Heliogen says that the use of AI has already made its technology economical. They believe that the only way forward is to make intelligent use of the available resources. And the use of AI makes that possible.
Imags and Video: Heliogen