Energy

Concentrated solar viable for industrial uses after exceeding 1,000°C

Concentrated solar viable for ...
Heliogen's concentrating solar system in California has reached temperatures in excess of 1,000° C
Heliogen's concentrating solar system in California has reached temperatures in excess of 1,000° C
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Heliogen's concentrating solar system in California has reached temperatures in excess of 1,000° C
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Heliogen's concentrating solar system in California has reached temperatures in excess of 1,000° C
Heliogen's concentrating solar system relies on advanced computer vision technology to focus its mirrors
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Heliogen's concentrating solar system relies on advanced computer vision technology to focus its mirrors
Heliogen's concentrating solar system heats up
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Heliogen's concentrating solar system heats up
The heliostats of Heliogen's concentrating solar system are computer controlled
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The heliostats of Heliogen's concentrating solar system are computer controlled
Heliogen's concentrating solar system in Lancaster, California
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Heliogen's concentrating solar system in Lancaster, California
Heliogen says its concentrating solar system could now find use in various industrial processes
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Heliogen says its concentrating solar system could now find use in various industrial processes

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 heliostats of Heliogen's concentrating solar system are computer controlled
The heliostats of Heliogen's concentrating solar system are computer controlled

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.

"The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Bill Gross, Heliogen CEO and Founder. "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."

Source: Heliogen

4 comments
Colin Leighfield
This technology has been developed in Spain and I visited a large operation in 2016 not far from Seville. There is a significant problem not mentioned here, perhaps because it is difficult. Birds flying across the site were being killed in large numbers, literally being burned to death and falling to the ground. There were partially incinerated corpses all around the area between the mirrors and the pylon carrying the point of focus at the top. Flying into the airport at Seville, this site several miles away was highly visible because of the brilliant reflection from the top of the tower. It looked like something from Buck Rogers. I was excited by the principle but seeing the reality on the ground was somewhat horrifying, sadly.
Douglas Rogers
The big problem with all things solar is the low power density of solar energy. In order for this to replace a blast furnace this installation would cover many square miles.
Bruce Anderson
One of the challenges here is the same with all solar, lack of sunlit hours. Although the temperatures can reach industrial levels, most manufacturing plants run more than 4-6 hours per day.
drBill
Very impressive imo. Temperature is not the whole story of course, and I'd like to know the GJ/m^2 (better: GJ/m^2/hour) at the focal point in some future article. For example, the temperature is sufficient for calcining, but calcium oxide needs to be made in tonnes/day, so even doing it on a ht conveyor belt (so you don't have to have a big reactor) still requires huge power values.