Bill Gates: How to fund the green revolution | The Economist
American billionaire and visionary supports a new venture that aims to turn sunlight into a heat source that can replace fossil fuels.
Heliogen, a clean energy company that came out of stealth mode on Tuesday, said it has discovered a way to use artificial intelligence and mirror fields to reflect so much sunlight that it generates extremely high thermal energy in excess of 1,000 degrees Celsius..
This technological breakthrough means that, for the first time, concentrated solar energy can be used to create the extremely high temperatures required for the production of cement, steel, glass and other industrial processes. In other words, sunlight can replace fossil fuels in the same conservative area of the economy that has not been affected by the clean energy revolution..
«We are implementing technology that can bring down the price of fossil fuels while still not emitting CO2, ”Bill Gross, founder and CEO of Heliogen, told CNN Business. – And it really is the Holy Grail».
Heliogen uses software to synchronize a large number of mirrors to reflect sunlight as efficiently as possible, creating a heat source nearly three times more intense than any previous commercial solar system..
Heliogen uses computer vision, automatic edge detection and other sophisticated technologies to train a group of mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays at a specific point..
«If you take a thousand mirrors and align them exactly on one point, you can reach extremely, very high temperatures.», – said Gross, adding that Heliogen made a breakthrough on the very first day it turned on the rig.
The creation of low-cost process heat at ultra-high temperatures gives the company the opportunity to make a significant contribution to solving the climate crisis, says Gross..
This technology can even reach temperatures of 1500° C to separate hydrogen particles from water and create a fossil-free gas for heating homes, refueling cars and power plants.
«If you can turn hydrogen green, that is a game changer, Gross said. – In the long term, we want to be “green hydrogen company”».
Cement production is the third largest emitter in the world after oil and coal, and production is expected to grow due to urbanization in developing countries and economic growth.
Heliogen is backed by private investors and entrepreneurs who believe this technology can help the world’s most polluting industries reduce carbon emissions..
Bill Gates and billionaire Patrick Sun-Shiong’s venture capital funds Neotribe and Nant Capital became the first investors in Heliogen..
«Today, industrial processes like those used to make cement, steel and other materials are responsible for more than one fifth of all emissions, Bill Gates said. “These materials are everywhere in our lives, but we don’t have any breakthroughs implemented that would give us affordable zero-carbon options. If we’re going to achieve zero carbon emissions altogether, we have a lot of inventions to do it. I am glad that I was one of the first proponents of Bill Gross’s new technology for concentrating solar radiation. Its ability to reach the high temperatures required for these processes is a promising development in the quest to one day replace fossil fuels.».
«Bill and the team really harnessed the sun, ” Patrick Sun-Shiong, who is also a member of Heliogen’s board of directors, admitted in an interview with CNN Business. – The potential for humanity is huge … The potential for business is incomprehensible».
At the moment, Heliogen is focused exclusively on solar energy. One of the problems with solar energy is that the sun doesn’t always shine, but industrial companies like cement manufacturers are constantly in need of heat. Heliogen believes it will solve this problem by relying on storage systems that can trap solar energy on rainy days..
Now with a technological breakthrough, Heliogen will focus on demonstrating how the technology can be used in large-scale applications such as cement production..
«We’re in a race. We just want to scale as fast as possible», – commented Gross.
Any plant can still operate on a 24-hour production schedule and use fossil fuels. But by implementing the Heliogen system, companies can cut fossil fuel consumption by 60%. Gross believes Heliogen systems will pay off within two to three years if companies buy the system outright. Heliogen will be able to independently operate the power plant and simply charge the manufacturer for electricity..
Gross tested small versions of Heliogen’s industrial heating technology at a 70-mirror array test site to prove that superconcentrated sunlight technology could work. The full-scale structure covers approximately two acres of land with mirrors and a tower where the beams are concentrated.. «It’s like a ray of death», – said Gross about concentrated sunlight.
According to clean energy advocates, entrepreneurs and renewable energy investors like Jigar Shah, the importance of hydrogen in the future of carbon-free energy cannot be overstated. Founder and former CEO of solar power company SunRun Shah is now investing in renewable energy projects.
«As we move closer to 100% clean electricity grids, it will be necessary not only to store excess electricity generation in the spring and fall, but to turn all of this excess electricity into valuable commodities that can help decarbonize other sectors outside of electricity – transportation, heating and the chemical industry – Shah wrote in his LinkedIn article. – This is where hydrogen comes into play».
«For our future generations, we must respond with extreme urgency to the current threat of climate change. I strive to use my resources to invest in innovative technologies that harness the power of nature and the sun. By dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating a cleaner source of energy, Heliogen’s brilliant technology will help us accomplish this mission and significantly improve the world we leave for our children.», – summarized by Patrick Sun-Shiong.