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SYFY WIRE solar power

Bill Gates backed company unleashes AI-enabled solar tech capable of baking cement

By Adam Pockross
Heliogen Lancaster Facility

We’re certainly not out of the fire just yet, but a new breakthrough by a California solar company could at least keep us out of the global warming frying pan.

Los Angeles-based Heliogen, a company backed by everyone’s favorite multi-billionaire (likely pushing trillionaire at this point), Bill Gates, has found a way to harness the power of the sun to create temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius. That’s hot enough to make cement, steel, glass, and other highly in-demand industrial processes, while replacing fossil fuels that are currently required to generate that much sizzle.

To create heat that rivals a quarter of the sun’s surface, Heliogen utilizes artificial intelligence that helps guide a field of mirrors to one single point. The company, which just announced its launch yesterday, believes this concentrated solar power could be a game changer in a part of the economy that green initiatives have been unable to penetrate.

“Heliogen’s mission is to create the world’s first technology that can commercially replace fossil fuels with carbon-free, ultra-high temperature heat from the sun and to transform sunlight into fuels at scale – taking a major step towards solving climate change,” reads the company’s first press release.

According to the International Energy Agency (via CNN), greenhouse gas emissions from the cement industry alone account for 7 percent of global CO2 emissions. Now think about removing fossil fuels from the production of glass, steel, and petrochemicals as well.

Concentrating solar thermal technology is not a new concept. But previous efforts have only yielded temps reaching upwards of 565 degrees Celsius. That's sufficient for energy purposes, but not for such industrial processes as cement, glass, and steel making.

But 1000 degree Celsius temps are only the beginning of Heliogen’s efforts.

“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,” reads the release.

Aka, game changer.

Gates, who knows a thing or two about game changing, and about the challenges facing our developing world, calls the technology “a promising development in the quest to one day replace fossil fuel.”

Granted, they have to take the technology to scale, and will need a whole bunch of backing to begin to make that happen. But while it may look like acid is raining down upon us these days, perhaps the sun really will come out tomorrow?