In November 2019, the secretive startup company Heliogen came out of stealth mode, revealing a new breakthrough in solar technology. The company, which is based in Pasadena, CA and is partially backed by Bill Gates, plans to use a combination of AI and mirrors to create a solar oven at record temperatures in order to heat industrial processes.
Until now, industrial processes like the manufacture of glass, steel, and cement, have been almost entirely fuelled by fossil fuels, due to the high temperatures required. But Heliogen has achieved heats of up to 1500℃, according to their website.
Heliogen is not the first to create a solar oven using mirrors; the European company Solpart has achieved that step in the past. What sets Heliogen apart is the use of AI to continuously position the mirrors at an optimal angle, even as the sun moves.
The first industry to benefit from the new solar technology will be the cement making industry, which accounts for 7% of all global CO2 emissions. Heliogen is already partnering with cement companies to help them use solar energy to replace fossil fuels in the kiln-heating step, which is currently one of the most carbon-intensive aspects of cement creation.
Unfortunately, Heliogen’s advancements will not be enough to mitigate all the effects of CO2 emissions. Much of the CO2 emitted by the cement industry is released when the limestone breaks down and when the cement is being transported; only about 40% is released in the step that Heliogen plans to replace with solar energy. Additionally, Heliogen will need to find a way to store solar energy in large quantities in order to create a steady supply of power for the cement plants.
Nevertheless, the new technology that Heliogen has created is a huge step forward, promising a sustainable solution for not just cement emissions, but emissions from similar industries that currently rely on fossil fuels.
Information from: Wired, CNN, Heliogen, the EPA