Concentrated solar startup Heliogen invested by Bill Gates has taken its first step, with multinational mining giant Rio Tinto establishing the first “solar reactor” advanced power plant at the boron plant in California that will initiate starting from 2022.
The technology of high-tower concentrated solar has been established for years, where several thousands of reflectors or heliostats reflect the sunlight to the central tower to generate heat through light concentration, before generating power using the steam turbine or storing the heat energy for a continuous provision of electricity after dusk. The latest concentrated solar technology designed by Heliogen claims to precisely reflect sunlight to a single target on the top of the tower through AI technology.
According to the record of Heliogen in Lancaster of California during 2019, a smaller reflector had produced a temperature of 1,000°C, and the target this time is to elevate the temperature to 1,800°C. Bill Gross, founder and CEO of Heliogen, commented that the steam is also able to produce the cheaper green hydrogen, where a 600x600m solar plant can produce 1 million kg of hydrogen, with the cost being reduced to US$1.8/kg, which is even cheaper than the hydrogen commonly see nowadays.
This concentrated solar plant of Heliogen will replace the natural gas thermoelectric boiler at the boron field of Rio Tino in the future, and provide 15,876kg of steam every hour. Rio Tinto commented that the particular establishment is likely to lower the carbon emission of the boron field by 7% that is equivalent to 5,000 fewer vehicles on the road (despite a simultaneous increase of more vehicles), where an extensive usage may also decrease carbon emission by 24%. Should the project be proven to be feasible, Rio Tinto will also evaluate the possibility of a threefold increase in production capacity.
It is almost impossible for Rio Tinto, the second largest mining company in the world, to detach itself from the global wave of energy transformation. The company has planned to allocate US$1 billion to carbon reduction between 2020 and 2025, and drafted the carbon-free target by 2030, as well as a 45% reduction in carbon emission compared to 2010.
The establishment of renewable energy facilities is no longer a rare sight in mines that are usually far away from the grid, though this remains as an excellent opportunity for Heliogen in verifying its technology, since the company has yet to disclose the details regarding the integration of AI into power plants, and an extensive degree of commercialization will need to be backed up by actual verification.
(Cover photo source: video screenshot)