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.