Renewable sources are playing a growing role in meeting our energy needs, but one place where they have continued to fall short is in industrial processes that require extreme heat. These include the cement, steel, and glass industries, among others. These industries account for a significant amount of CO2 emissions because the most effective way to reach the necessary temperatures continues to be combustion of fossil fuels. The cement industry alone accounts for 7% of global emissions and the need for cement continues to grow.
A previously stealthy startup company backed by Bill Gates and fellow billionaire Soon-Shiong has made a breakthrough in the area of using solar energy to achieve high temperatures. The company, called Heliogen, has created a solar oven that is capable of generating heat above 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough for high-temperature industrial processes.
The Heliogen technology uses concentrated solar power to generate heat. Concentrated solar power uses arrays of mirrors to reflect sunlight and focus it to a single point. That technology is not new; there are systems that use it to produce electricity and, to some extent, heat for industry. But it could not achieve high enough temperatures for producing cement or steel.
The new system uses computer vision software, automatic edge detection and other sophisticated technologies to focus the sun’s rays far more finely than ever before and thereby generate far higher temperatures at the focal point.
Heliogen is now focused on demonstrating how the technology can be used in a large-scale application, such as cement-making. The selling points to industry are that not only will there be no emissions generated, but that the fuel needed to obtain their extreme heat will be free.
Photo courtesy of Heliogen.