Startup backed by billionaires creates superhot solar power

A mysterious startup reveals a groundbreaking solar energy achievement.

Startup backed by billionaires creates superhot solar power

Heliogen facility in Lancaser, CA.

Credit: Heliogen
  • Heliogen, a startup backed by Bill Gates and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, announces a solar energy breakthrough.
  • The company's array of mirrors generated heat of 1,000 degrees Celsius, nearly twice as much as before.
  • The startup aims to utilize the technology in industrial processes, significantly reducing gas emissions.


Heliogen, a solar-energy company backed by the the world's richest man, Bill Gates, claims to have made a renewable energy breakthrough. The company's array of mirrors generated a tremendous heat of 1,000 degrees Celsius, showing promise in replacing fossil fuels in major industrial processes.

The company is gearing its tech towards plants that manufacture cement, petrochemicals or steel. The replacement of fossil fuels in such industries could potentially lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that have been linked to climate change. Re-powering cement production alone with solar could wipe out up to 7% of carbon dioxide emissions around the world.

The way Heliogen's mirrors work is by concentrating light towards a point on a liquid-filled tower. This heats up the tower, creating thermal energy that can fuel a heat engine. Previous solar thermal systems would only go to 565 degrees, not producing enough power for many industrial operations that have achieved the required heat by burning up fossil fuels.

The company's system of mirrors is also noteworthy for its AI backend, supported by computer vision software that can align the large mirror array with precision to reflect sunlight onto a target. Of course, one wonders if this is going to have military applications.

Heliogen was founded by its CEO – the entrepreneur Bill Gross, who also founded Idealab. He called what Heliogen achieved "a technological leap forward" that can address about 75% of the world's energy demand that is currently not being served by clean energy.

"The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Gross, adding "With low-cost, ultra-high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis."

Bill Gates, who invested into the company, said in a press release he was "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."

Based in Pasadena, California, the startup is staffed by scientists and engineers from top technical insinuations like Caltech and MIT. Among its other investors is the billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and the venture capital firm Neotribe.

Explore Energy Innovation, with Michio Kaku

What's next for the startup? Having cracked 1,000 degrees, Heliogen aims to achieve temperates of up to 1,500 degrees Celsius. That amount of heat is necessary to make 100-percent fossil-free fuels like hydrogen or syngas. "If you can make hydrogen that's green, that's a gamechanger," explained Gross to CNN. "Long term, we want to be the green hydrogen company."

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
  • We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists: Gamma-ray jets exceed the speed of light

Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.

An artist's drawing of a particle jet emanating from a black hole at the center of a blazar.

Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab (used with permission by Astronomy Picture of the Day, which is co-managed by Robert Nemiroff at Michigan Tech).
Surprising Science
  • Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
  • The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
  • The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists find the "magic number" that links forces of the universe

Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.

The Universe and the fine-structure constant.

Credit: Adobe
Surprising Science
  • A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
  • This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
  • The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
Keep reading Show less

A new system separates oxygen and hydrogen from Mars’ water

Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.

Illustration of Mars' long-gone Jezero Lake

Technology & Innovation
  • Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
  • Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
  • The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
Keep reading Show less
Coronavirus

How officials will ensure the COVID-19 vaccine stays cold enough in transit

Pfizer's vaccine needs to be kept at -100°F until it's administered. Can caregivers deliver?

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast