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Startup backed by billionaires creates superhot solar power

A mysterious startup reveals a groundbreaking solar energy achievement.

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."

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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4 ways to promote neurogenesis in your brain

How can we promote the creation of new neurons - and why is it so important?

We can promote the development of new neurons well into adulthood - and here's why we should.

Image by vrx on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • Neurogenesis, the birth of neurons from stem cells, happens mostly before we are born - as we are formed in the womb, we are generating most of what we need after birth.
  • After birth, neurogenesis is still possible in two parts of the brain: the olfactory bulb (which is responsible for our sense of smell) and the hippocampus (which is responsible for memory, spatial navigation, and emotional processing).
  • Research from the 1960s proves creating new neurons as adults is possible, and modern-day research explains how (and why) we should promote new neuron growth.
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Live on Tuesday | Personal finance in the COVID-19 era

Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

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