2020 foresight for fossil-free energy

A report by Kelsey Warner in The National says that, over the next 10 years, the Middle East’s biggest export could become the sun, not oil, thanks to new technology that turns solar power into fuel

A new Bill Gates-backed clean energy company, Heliogen, based in Lancaster, California, has concentrated solar energy to exceed 1,500°C – at that temperature, they can split water molecules to make 100% fossil-free fuels such as hydrogen

And in addition to creating green fuel, the technology can also replace fossil fuels in the production of cement, steel and petrochemicals, dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions

“I’m so excited that it’s actually possible,” Bill Gross, founder and chief executive of Heliogen, told The National

“The decade of the 2020s is going to be a decade where we make or break it”

Although concentrated solar power has been used before, it has never reached the temperature required to make cement or steel – indeed, cement alone accounts for 7% of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency

The task ahead is convincing industrial energy producers to replace their old methods with this new alternative – and high on the list is the Middle East

Gross said: “They have the money, the land, the sun, and the will – they also talk of their vision for how they want to transform their economy – they will still be making fuel, but it will be fuel that didn’t come from digging – it will be fuel that came out of the air, from water and air”

Gross calculates that Saudi Arabia could fully replace its oil exports with green solar-generated hydrogen if it commits just 4% of its land – some 1,000 square kilometres – and invests $400 billion in developing a concentrated solar park.

The fact that Heliogen has solid financial backing from Bill Gates means they can potentially survive the so-called valley of death period between having a technical prototype and a system that is commercially ready for the market

Nevertheless, Gross says: “We’re picking the first customer now – it’s probably going to be a mining or minerals company in the Mojave Desert [in California] where I can show it on a big enough scale that Saudi Arabia can copy”

“Accelerating clean energy innovation needs to be a priority” says Espen Mehlum, head of energy at the World Economic Forum – “Clean-tech development is too slow and many technologies are needed to meet the global climate targets”

Gross echoes that sentiment: “It makes me more optimistic because I feel there is a technological solution to greenhouse gas emissions” – “It makes me nervous that we won’t adopt it fast enough”

The Heliogen team is made up of 20 scientists and engineers, mainly from Caltech and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), who have been working for several years to combine mechanical engineering with massive strides in computer science and computing power

Heliogen uses computer software to align a large array of mirrors extremely accurately to reflect sunlight on to a single target – the amount of computing power needed to assess and capture the maximum amount of solar energy possible in real-time was not commercially feasible five years ago – but now it is

According to Gross: “This is so big I can’t do it all myself”

“I just want to show people there’s a way – I hope people steal this idea”

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.