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Bill Gates backs solar start-up that generates heat at over 1000℃



Having recently reclaimed his position as the world’s richest man, Bill Gates is investing some of his vast wealth in solar start-up Heliogen, a California-based company which aims to concentrate sunlight into a source of heat that can be used in heavy industry.

Heliogen uses artificial intelligence to angle mirrors precisely in a way that will concentrate the sun's energy on a single point and generate extreme heat
(Image via Heliogen)

Concentrated solar power uses a series of mirrors to focus the Sun’s energy on a single spot. While there are many solar power plants - such as California’s Ivanpah facility - generating power in this way, none are capable of generating enough heat to meet the needs of industrial processes.

Heliogen aims to fix that, by implementing new computer vision, sensing and control technologies. Their artificial intelligence system monitors a field of mirrors from four high resolution cameras and adjusts them to reflect sunlight on a tower at the precise angle to maximise the concentration of light and generate extreme heat.

The company claim that their technology is able to reach temperatures of over 1,000℃ - nearly double the heights reached by previous commercial concentrated solar systems, which have only managed 565℃. Heat like this is required for many industrial processes, including the production of materials such as glass, cement and steel, and currently requires burning fossil fuels.

If manufacturing facilities are able to generate these temperatures from solar panels, they can eliminate the need for fossil fuels for a significant part of their operations. Even a plant operating on a 24-hour production schedule could still reduce its fossil fuel consumption by up to 60%, according to company founder Bill Gross.

“They already have a power source/burner that is variable, based on the flow rate of materials, and is servo controlled to have the correct air flow exit temperature,” Gross said.

“So when we add heat (when the sun is out) the fossil fuel burner just automatically gets scaled back like a thermostat on a room heater (albeit at much higher temperature).  So it’s a seamless control integration.”

Heliogen demonstrated their technology to potential investors including Bill Gates
(Image via Heliogen)

The company want to take the technology even further, believing that they could use it to reach temperatures of 1,500℃ - enough to split hydrogen particles from water. Hydrogen has long been touted as an effective, clean, unlimited fuel source but producing it from water requires a lot of energy - again, coming from fossil fuels. Producing hydrogen at an industrial scale has long been seen as key to unlocking the element’s potential for use as a clean energy source for homes, cars and factories.

The company demonstrated their technology to investors, including Gates, last week. The Microsoft founder said he was pleased to be an initial backer of “a promising development in the quest to one day replace fossil fuel”.

“Today, industrial processes like those used to make cement, steel, and other materials are responsible for more than a fifth of all emissions,” he said.

“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.”

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Bill Gates backs solar start-up that generates heat at over 1000℃ - Time to read 3 min
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