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Secretive Bill Gates-Backed Startup Uses AI for Clean Energy

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Heliogen, a secretive startup backed by Bill Gates and AOL founder Steve Case, has announced that they are using artificial intelligence (AI) to tackle what many consider society’s greatest threat. 

The company came out of the shadows on Tuesday to reveal that they discovered how to use AI, along with a field of mirrors, to reflect enough sunlight to generate extreme heat above 1,000 degrees Celsius. 

According to the founders, this could replace fossil fuels in industrial plants, which are responsible for over 20 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. The newly generated heat can replace those same fossil fuels and be used in critical industrial processes, like the production of cement, steel, and petrochemicals. 

The huge breakthrough happened at Heliogen’s commercial facility in Lancaster, California. The firm’s founder and CEO is Bill Gross, who is also the founder of Idealab. The team consists of scientists and engineers from Caltech, MIT, and other institutions. 

According to the press release, Heliogen’s main mission is to create the world’s first technology capable of commercially replacing fossil fuels with carbon-free, ultra-high temperature heat from the sun. They aim to transform sunlight into fuel in order to help solve climate change. 

“Today, industrial processes like those used to make cement, steel, and other materials are responsible for more than a fifth of all emissions,” Gates said. “These materials are everywhere in our lives, but we don’t have any proven breakthroughs that will give us affordable, zero-carbon versions of them. If we’re going to get to zero-carbon emissions overall, we have a lot of inventing to do. I’m pleased to have been an early backer of [Heliogen CEO] Bill Gross’s novel solar concentration technology.”

Heliogen uses advanced computer vision software, which allows them to precisely align a large array of mirrors. They then reflect sunlight to a single target. According to the company, the technology will make it capable to eventually create solar energy levels of 1,500 degrees Celsius. This would make it possible to create completely clean hydrogen. 

Heliogen is currently working with a few different partners, including Parsons Corporation, who is a global leader in the defense, intelligence, and critical infrastructure markets. They have been working on developing and implementing innovative solar thermal projects for over 10 years. 

“As a company, we deliver sustainable solutions to our customers and we look forward to bringing Heliogen’s breakthrough technology to scale with our industry partners,” said Michael Chung, Vice President of Energy Solutions, Parsons Corporation.

“The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Bill Gross. “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.”

The project has other investors including venture capital firm Neotribe and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. He is a Los-Angeles-based investor and entrepreneur, and he owns Nant Capital, an investment firm. Neotribe’s founder and managing director, Swaroop ‘Kittu’ Kolluri, and Dr. Soon-Shong are on Heliogen’s board of directors. 

“For the sake of our future generations we must address the existential danger of climate change with an extreme sense of urgency,” said Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong.  “I am committed to using my resources to invest in innovative technologies that harness the power of nature and the sun. By significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating a pure source of energy, Heliogen’s brilliant technology will help us achieve this mission and also meaningfully improve the world we leave our children.”