This Startup Uses AI To Generate Enough Heat To Melt Steel From Solar Energy
Aadhya Khatri - Nov 20, 2019
Heliogen intends to use AI to align a great number of reflectors to direct sunlight to heat up one single target
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You may know the experiment of using magnifying glasses to focus sunlight and then burn a hole on a piece of paper. Solar furnaces work on the same principles but at a much larger scale. Recently, a startup has found a way to leverage the power of AI to increase the efficiency of these furnaces all while reducing footprint.
Over the last few years, the amount of money users have to pay to use solar energy has been significantly lowered. In fact, the investment in a solar plant like the Eagle Shadow Mountain Solar Farm based in Nevada is even lower than the cost of generating power by burning natural gas or coal.
Using the Sun’s energy is more sustainable and environmentally-friendly than burning fossil fuels.
However, some challenges are preventing us from harnessing the vast power of the Sun. Solar plants need steam from molten salt to make electricity, which called for a temperature of around 600°C. To have that much heat, each plant must locate on a large amount of land to accommodate its vast range of reflectors.
This is what Heliogen, a startup, wants to address. It does not seek a way to change the way these solar plants work; instead, its team of scientists from Caltech, MIT, and other famous technology institutes, wants to take advantage of AI to increase the efficiency of solar farms.
For now, Heliogen has released little information on how it plans to do so. All we know is that it intends to use AI to align a significant number of reflectors to direct sunlight to heat up one single target. The news was made public in a press release.
The more precise the way these mirrors are aligned, the more heat we can have from the Sun. According to the startup, the temperature they can generate is way over the minimum to turn the generators, which is expected to be 1,000°C.
If that claim turns out to be accurate, the prospect of such technology is enormous. Currently, we need that exactly range of temperatures to make cement, steel, and other commodities, which make up for around 75% of the energy demand worldwide. Exhaust fumes from the production of them also account for one-fifth of the total amount of harmful emissions.
Heliogen said that their approach is extremely efficient in taking advantage of a large amount of energy the Earth receives from the Sun every day. The application of this AI-enabled technology can go far past the target of energy production with no emission.
It said that the expected temperature could reach as much as 1,500°C, which can separate water molecules and carbon dioxide to make hydrogen and other fuels that do not emit exhausted fumes. They can be alternatives to gas to power automobiles.
Heliogen still has some challenges ahead to tackle if it wants to perfect the technology. For example, how to store the exceeded energy when the Sun does not shine, like at night.
A no less challenging battle is to convince companies that have long relied on fossil fuels to power their production, to switch to the more environmentally-friendly solar energy.
Heliogen has convinced people like Bill Gates to back its business. The startup’s selling points include its effort to lessen the effect of the industrial revolution on our planet. Still, more importantly, the Sun generously gives us a vast amount of energy every day with charging anything.