Bill Gates-backed Heliogen has a concentrated solar breakthrough that can displace fossil fuels in industrial processes

Heliogen main (compressed)

For the first time commercially, there is a concentrated solar energy system to exceed temperatures greater than 1,000 degrees Celsius — a temperature that can replace the need for fossil fuels in critical industrial processes, including the production of cement, steel, and petrochemicals, according to Heliogen, the innovator of the system. This singular scientific achievement was accomplished at Heliogen’s commercial facility in Lancaster, California.

The potential impact of Heliogen’s patented technology is massive. 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.

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Explained

Heliogen’s heat technology represents a key technical breakthrough for concentrated solar thermal. 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.

Heliogen is able to achieve these breakthrough temperatures as a result of its technology that uniquely uses advanced computer vision software to hyper-accurately align a large array of mirrors to reflect sunlight to a single target. The firm’s founder and chief executive officer is Bill Gross, a lifelong entrepreneur and founder of Idealab. The Heliogen team includes scientists and engineers from Caltech, MIT, and other leading institutions and is based in Pasadena, California.

Big names behind this

Heliogen is working with Parsons Corporation, a global leader in the defense, intelligence, and critical infrastructure markets. Parsons, Heliogen’s strategic partner, has more than a decade of experience with the development and implementation of innovative solar thermal projects.

“As a company, we deliver sustainable solutions to our customers and we look forward to bringing Heliogen’s breakthrough technology to scale with our industry partners,” said Michael Chung, Vice President of Energy Solutions, Parsons Corporation.

“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.”

“It’s not hard to improve upon another’s idea, but it takes a truly innovative mind and superhuman effort to create something entirely new and groundbreaking,” said Swaroop ‘Kittu’ Kolluri, Founder of Silicon Valley VC firm Neotribe Ventures, and member of the board of directors, Heliogen. “We enthusiastically support entrepreneurs in their quest to disrupt the status quo by solving complex and deeply impactful problems that result in lasting change. Bill Gross and the team at Heliogen have done exactly that, solve a complete problem in a bold new way that will make the world a better place.”

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