As their name suggests, concentrated solar power (CSP) systems concentrate light from the sun onto a small area, where it is converted to heat. Although this heat is sufficient for electricity generation – usually via a steam turbine – the temperatures they reach aren’t sufficient for various industrial processes. But now a California-based company says it has broken that barrier by reaching temperatures of more than 1,000° C (1,832° F) with its concentrating solar thermal system.
Heliogen is a clean energy company backed by Bill Gates that has a commercial facility located in Lancaster, California. It is there that the company managed to exceed temperatures of 1,000° C using its patented concentrating solar technology – something it claims is a first for a commercial system.
Rather than just electricity generation, which can be achieved at much lower temperatures, this makes concentrated solar an option for a variety of industrial applications, such as producing petrochemicals, cement, and steel – processes that traditionally rely on the burning of fossil fuels.
This has the potential to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from such processes – Heliogen points out that cement production alone accounts for over 7 percent of global CO2 emissions.
But the company has even higher hopes for its concentrating solar technology, saying that it plans to work towards reaching temperatures of up to 1,500° C (2,732° F), which would make it suitable for CO2-splitting and water-splitting to make clean fuels such as hydrogen and syngas.
The secret sauce of Heliogen’s technology is advanced computer vision software that allows a large array of computer-controlled mirrors (known as heliostats) to focus their reflected sunlight onto a target with ultra-high accuracy, resulting in ultra-high temperatures.