The pressure to adopt renewable energy sources is tremendous, given the rate at which climate change is developing. Yet the industrial sectors lack viable solar solutions for change, so large-scale fossil fuel use remains high. For example, a large steel mill can utilize as much as 1.5 million metric tons of coal a year, and coal continues to account for about a quarter of all carbon emissions. Previously, alternatives for generating the extreme heat needed for steel and cement production was nonexistent. Enter: the startup company called Heliogen and its solar solution.
Based in California, Heliogen has developed a solar solution for heat production using solar mirrors and artificial intelligence. In using this strategy of solar energy for heat production, the company is able to reach temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, this conversion of solar energy to heat would allow many industries to abandon coal. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Future applications for this solar solution may even be more profound in the years to come.
Heliogen’s Unique Solar Solution
The use of solar panels and mirrors to create heat is not necessarily new. In the past, solar companies have been able to generate temperatures as high as 575 degrees Celsius using this type of approach. But unfortunately, industries that produce steel, cement, and petrochemicals require temperatures as high as 950 degrees Celsius. Thus, the opportunity to avoid coal use and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was limited. Conversely, the need to attain more concentrated solar power for extreme heat generation was clearly evident.
Heliogen’s novel approach in developing their solar solution was to utilize artificial intelligence in the process. By using computer vision software, automatic edge detection, and image processing techniques, Heliogen took the next step forward. This process, which focused sunlight on a single point more precisely, generated enough heat that could replace the need for coal. In other words, by using solar energy for heat production, coal use could be dramatically reduced in many industrialized settings.
Current Options of Solar Energy for Heat Production
In truth, while the solar energy for the heat production process is revolutionary, it cannot replace coal completely. For one, sunlight is necessary for heat production, which limits this solar solution currently to daylight hours and sunny days. However, even employing this technology now could reduce carbon emissions in specific industries by a third. And given that coal alone accounts for 8 percent of all global carbon emissions, the use of this technology is a tremendous development. Industries producing glass, cement, steel, and petrochemicals are the ones that could benefit immediately.
Using solar energy for heat production through Heliogen are available in primarily two options. Companies can choose to purchase and install the solar solution system and pay it off within 2 to 3 years. Alternatively, Heliogen could install and run the system with companies paying for the energy only. And in terms of cost, Heliogen believes its use of artificial intelligence and sunlight makes it a highly competitive option. After all, sunlight is free, and AI is much less costly than other industrial processes.
What’s Ahead for Heliogen’s Solar Solution
While Heliogen looks to begin offering its solar solution to various industries, the company has larger visions ahead. Specifically, Heliogen sees potential in using its solar energy for heat production processes to even create clean hydrogen. The additional advantages this move could offer in greenhouse gas reductions would be tremendous. Clean hydrogen could be used to fuel trucks and airplanes, thus reducing carbon emissions even further. In fact, Heliogen hopes to one day be a green hydrogen company primarily.
In an effort to attain this mission, Heliogen will need to raise additional venture capital. Despite already having significant backers, additional funds will be required to scale its solar solution for widespread use. Likewise, Heliogen is similarly pursuing storage options so that solar energy for heat can be utilized when sunlight isn’t available. Given the company’s success to date, it is quite likely that additional investors will come forward. And based on the impact this technology could have on every global industry, that opportunity looks to be extremely attractive.
A switch in the brain that can be literally flipped to turn off substance dependence? Researchers think it’s possible. West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RIN) is exploring the possibility of using Deep Brain Stimulation therapy (DBS therapy) as a method to assist patients in beating opioid addiction. The method has already been used to treat various neurological diseases—from depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder and tremors to Parkinson’s disease.
For patients who have been resistant to known intervention methods against opioid use disorder, brain stimulation therapy offers hope. Correspondingly, similar research is being carried out in Europe and China. Though still in its early stage, the study bears promising answers.
Opioid Crisis: A Quick Look at the Numbers
Clearly, an opioid crisis is looming over the country, and steps to curb the problem are urgently needed. In 2017, opioid overdose death reached 47,600 or over 130 deaths per day. Several states saw a significant increase in opioid overdose-related deaths. The list includes Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—to name a few.
Deaths from opioid overdose in the U.S. can be divided into three distinct waves. The first wave occurred in the 1990s with the increase of use in prescription opioids. By the year 2010, heroin was the popular opioid drug. The rise of heroin marked the second wave of opioid deaths. The third wave was marked by the rise of synthetic opioids—such as the likes of fentanyl. Across these three waves of the opioid crisis from 1999-2017, almost 400,000 have died due to opioid drug overdose.
Besides the rising number of deaths, some children were left behind by parents who have passed on, and some families were torn apart—all because of the addiction. Indeed, the discovery of new methods like deep brain stimulation therapy to curb the said addiction is timely and potentially lifesaving.
Deep Brain Stimulation Therapy: Application on Opioid Addiction
Thirty-three-year-old Gerod Buckhalter is the first of the four patients to undergo the treatment. Buckhalter—along with the 48.5 million Americans who are similarly under the grip of substance abuse—will significantly benefit from this technology. The procedure involves implanting electrodes in the patient’s brain. Like a pacemaker, once the implant is in place, it will fire stimulus or electronic pulses to the reward center of the brain to stimulate the human body.
Opioids work by binding to pain receptors in the brain and spinal cord, thus making the substance a potent medication against chronic pains. Besides blocking pain receptors, opioid also triggers the release of neurotransmitters called endorphins. A surge in endorphins can boost feelings of well-being and pleasure. Instead of relying on an opioid dose, the patient is assured that the implants’ electrical signals will stimulate the brain’s reward center. Hence, for patients grappling with addiction and trying all forms of treatment in vain, brain stimulation therapy is a positive development.
A Bold Hope Yet for People With Addiction
Addiction is a complex and chronic disease. As the reasons for the onset of an addiction can vary from one person to another, finding the treatment method that works for the individual is crucial for the success of the treatment. For some, counseling and behavioral therapies can work. For some, medication combined with therapy works wonders. However, there are those who are still resistant to known treatment methods. With the help of brain stimulation therapy paired with the goal of helping patients beat their addiction, we hope to see more recovering individuals return to the fold of society.