Founded by Pasadena Entrepreneur Bill Gross, Funded in Part by Bill Gates, Clean Energy Company Heliogen Chalks Up Scientific Achievement

Published : Wednesday, November 20, 2019 | 6:15 PM

A Pasadena-based clean energy company called Heliogen, founded by a prominent Pasadena entrepreneur and funded in part by Bill Gates, said it has – for the first time commercially – concentrated solar energy to exceed temperatures greater than 1,000 degrees Celsius.

At that temperature, the technology can replace the use of fossil fuels in critical industrial processes, including the production of cement, steel, and petrochemicals. The system could also dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from these activities.

The singular scientific achievement was accomplished at Heliogen’s commercial facility in Lancaster, the company announced Tuesday.

The statement also marked the Pasadena-based company’s public launch.

Heliogen’s founder and CEO is Bill Gross, a lifelong entrepreneur and founder of Idealab, another Pasadena startup. The Heliogen team includes scientists and engineers from Caltech, MIT, and other leading institutions.

“The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Gross said. “We’ve made great strides in deploying clean energy in our electricity system. But electricity accounts for less than a quarter of global energy demand. Heliogen represents a technological leap forward in addressing the other 75 percent of energy demand: the use of fossil fuels for industrial processes and transportation. With low-cost, ultra-high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis.”

Heliogen says its 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.

The company’s recent heat technology achievement is a key technical breakthrough for concentrated solar thermal. Previous commercial systems have been designed to reach temperatures of up to only 565 degrees Celsius, which may be useful for power generation, but insufficient for many industrial processes.

Heliogen said its patented technology will have massive impact. With temperatures from its concentrating solar thermal technology exceeding 1,000 degrees Celsius, Heliogen will be able to replace the fuel for industrial processes with solar energy for the first time, significantly reducing carbon emissions.

As an example, the company said cement production alone accounts for more than seven percent of global CO2 emissions.

“Today, industrial processes like those used to make cement, steel, and other materials are responsible for more than a fifth of all emissions,” Bill Gates said. “If we’re going to get to zero-carbon emissions overall, we have a lot of inventing to do. I’m pleased to have been an early backer of Bill Gross’s novel solar concentration technology. Its capacity to achieve the high temperatures required for these processes is a promising development in the quest to one day replace fossil fuel.”

Heliogen added its technology roadmap could eventually lead to temperatures up to 1,500 degrees Celsius. At that temperature, in addition to industrial process heat, Heliogen can perform CO2-splitting and water-splitting to make 100 percent fossil-free fuels such as hydrogen or syngas.

Heliogen’s technology uses advanced computer vision software to hyper-accurately align a large array of mirrors to reflect sunlight to a single target.

Heliogen is working with another Pasadena-based organization, Parsons, which leads globally in the defense, intelligence, and critical infrastructure markets.

“As a company, we deliver sustainable solutions to our customers and we look forward to bringing Heliogen’s breakthrough technology to scale with our industry partners,” Michael Chung, Parsons Vice President of Energy Solutions, said.

Other investors in Heliogen include venture capital firm Neotribe and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a Los Angeles-based investor and entrepreneur, through his investment firm, Nant Capital.

Dr. Soon-Shiong and Neotribe’s founder and managing director Swaroop ‘Kittu’ Kolluri are now on Heliogen’s board of directors, the statement said.

For more information about Heliogen, visit www.heliogen.com.

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