sunlight refinery 2

The Sunlight Refinery, 2




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I’m excited to talk to you about transforming energy with a sunlight refinery. This is making green hydrogen competitive with fossil fuel.

Energy is the most important industry on Earth. It accounts for all of our comfort, convenience, productivity, safety and dramatic GDP growth. This is a graph of GDP per capita in the pre- and post-industrial revolution. You can see how GDP per capita took off like a rocket ship right after we learned how to harness cheap energy

Energy is also the biggest industry on Earth; it’s fully ten percent (10%) of the 86 trillion dollar global GDP or 8.6 trillion dollars. Coal, oil and gas are 84% of that or 7 trillion annually — and that’s 25 times larger than the existing renewables energy market.

The last decade was about reducing the cost of making electrons when the sun was shining or when the wind was blowing. We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in cost: 22 times price decline for wind, 200 times price decline for solar.

We reached a tipping point in all of history: a major thing happened in 2017. That was the time when electrons made from sun and wind became cheaper than fossil fuel electrons for the first time in all of history.

Renewables won the price war.

But at the wrong time of day: they don’t deliver when they’re most needed; solar energy peaks at noon — but user demand peaks in the morning and after the sun sets.

Wind energy peaks in the middle of the night; again opposite when the peak demand period occurs.

And all industrial processes need flat power 24-7 all hours of the day. Renewables can’t deliver that.

In addition renewables are not always in the right place: renewables give us 10,000 times more energy than humanity uses — but they’re not always where people need them.

We need to be able to move our energy.

Civilization would grind to a halt if we could not move energy around the Earth. This decade will be all about transportable renewable energy. Until now you couldn’t transport it long distances.

But that’s what we need to do.

If you could make renewable energy transportable, you can unlock that $7 trillion of potential.

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Well how do we do it?

Hydrogen is the only transportable, renewable fuel. It produces absolutely zero emissions when you burn it. Hydrogen also is the single most abundant element in the universe.

On Earth however all the hydrogen is attached to something else; it’s either connected to fossil fuel hydrocarbons or in biological mass, or in water.

And it’s very hard and energy intensive to separate. The way we make 99.9 percent of our hydrogen on Earth right now is made with steam methane reforming, by burning, splitting natural gas, we take the CH4 and we get the hydrogens off of that.

That is much more expensive than separating hydrogen from water; three times more expensive. But splitting it from water doesn’t release any emissions. Splitting it from methane releases CO2.

So hydrogen is abundant. But almost all of it today on earth is dirty hydrogen. So how do we make green hydrogen cheaper than fossil fuel hydrogen?

Well the only way is through breakthrough technology:

We need to use more computation. We need to use Moore’s law to compete with natural resources. We need to use robotics and automation. We need to use AI, computer vision, machine learning to scale things. And we need to use new materials and fabrication. We need to use 3D printing, new synthesis materials.

We need to use every trick in the technology book to be able to compete with fossil fuels in a green, clean and scalable way.

Well we at Heliogen set out to apply AI and computation to concentrated solar. How can we use more computation, Moore’s Law and less materials to make it more cost effective?

When we first had this idea of using more software, Bill Gates became one of our first investors. He of course was very excited about using computation to be able to make this much more affordable.

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Well we worked for many years and invented six fundamental breakthroughs that allowed this to happen.

1. We used AI computer vision to deliver closed-loop tracking to achieve higher temperatures than people have ever achieved before.

2. We came up with new innovations to pre-fabricate our system in a factory to get economies of scale.

3. We eliminated the expensive slew drive gearbox to make these systems work.

4. We invented robotic installation and maintenance so we can lower the labor cost.

5. We develop very very low energy storage cost that uses hot air and rocks at high temperature — 1000 degrees centigrade — to dramatically reduce the cost of energy storage and

6. We came up with a modular plant design so we’d have the learning curve scalability and the modularity that allows us to build this in very large quantities.

The end result was that Heliogen invented a sunlight refinery. It’s a revolutionary green hydrogen and 24-7 electricity plant. Now we can make hydrogen where the sun is good and transport it to where the demand is good, but where the sun is not.

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How do we do this?

We developed a technique to have very, very high capacity factor. You need both high capacity factor and low cost to make green hydrogen affordable.

Typical solar panels are in the 20, 21, 22 percent capacity factor range. That means they put out electricity 22% of the year. If you put solar panels on two axis trackers, you can get into the high 20s. Wind can get into the low 30s, and more expensive offshore wind can get into the low 40s.

We have achieved 85% plus capacity factor. Having that always available energy and at low cost is what makes green hydrogen affordable. The reason is you need to be able to leverage the capaity of your electric electrolyzer over more hours of the day to make it economical.

And that’s exactly what our technology does: it allows us to put out power flat all day long, even after the sun goes down.

With solar panels, every photon that strikes the panel makes an electron. When the photons stop, the electrons stop.

With our system, we’re converting the photons to high temperature heat. When the photons stop, i.e when the sun goes down, the heat stays. We hold on to that heat in high temperature rocks so we can keep on producing power all night long, even on multiple cloudy days.

That’s what makes this economical. For the first, it’s the extremely low cost storage of thermal energy that continues after the photons stop.

The modular plant we built is a single size: it’s about a sixth of a square mile. It has more than 85% capacity factor. It produces sub 5 cent electricity and it produces more than one million kilograms of hydrogen per year. So huge output from a relatively compact piece of land and can be done at enormous scale to drive down the cost even further.

We’ve developed robotic installation maintenance and cleaning that allows us to keep the high performance all the time.

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And the net result: all that matters is the cost.

We’re able to produce hydrogen at less than two dollars per kilogram. Hydrogen made from natural gas costs about $2.20 cents per kilogram; and hydrogen made from other renewable sources cost much, much more.

So this really allows us to be very, very competitive with fossil fuels. This allows all kinds of fossil fuel companies to join us in the energy transition and do it very profitably.

The old way to power the planet was to make an oil refinery: you take the oil out of the ground. You refine it.

Let’s say you make diesel at $2.99 a gallon or about 21. per mbtu. The new way to power the planet is to make a sunlight refinery. We take the sunlight out of the sky we make green hydrogen for under two dollars a kilogram. And it’s really green fossil fuel for less than the price of fossil fuel for the first time in history.

This is really important for the energy transition. This is really important for many of us to work together to make lots of profits while we make fuel with no CO2.

If you look back through all of history, we went through many different energy eras.

First we lived in the biology era. That was when we got all of our energy from plants from using our muscles, from animals’ muscles.

Then, as you heard earlier, came the chemistry era. We got all of our energy from burning things. When we learned how to do this, our GDP per capita took off like crazy.

The next era we need to enter is the physics era. That is when we’ll get all our energy from the sun, wind and nuclear. And importantly, we’ll get our energy from renewables even after the sun stops, even after the sun goes down.

And that’s through these technologies that allow us to get continuous energy to run these new processes all industrial processes, and of course the electrolysis process to make green hydrogen.

This decade will be about transportable renewable energy; it will be the transportable renewable energy decade.

We need to invest in many breakthroughs.

To make this happen, I’ve shared with you one technology that we’ve developed at Heliogen. We would love to work with you and partner to make this happen at scale.

I think this is the single biggest opportunity in history and it’s also a chance to make a huge positive impact along with huge profitability.

Thank you very much; you’ve been a great audience.

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Transportation. The largest industry in the world is automobile manufacturing. Is this true or false?

Communication, Telecommunication. Over the years, has there been steady changes in the energy industry? What has been the trend in the energy industry? Was 2017 a watershed year? Was 2017 a decisive year?

Roads, Highways, Freeways. Has there been a dilemma regarding solar and wind power? What are the main drawbacks of tradition solar and wind power?

Rail lines, Railways. Hydrogen gas can be minded, just oil, coal and gas. Is this right or wrong? How has hydrogen been produced? Is there only one way to produce hydrogen?

Tunnels, Bridges. Is the Heliogen sunlight refinery a simple, low-tech process of using mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a water boiler?

Ports, Harbors, Docks. What are Heliogen’s main breakthrough achievements?

Ships, Trucks, Trains, Airplanes. Regarding energy, Bill Gross mentioned three phases in human development. How does he designate them? What names does he give them?

Airports, Airfields, Runways. Is Bill optimistic, pessimistic, both or neither?
Pipelines. Does your city, region and country consume lots of energy and electric power?

Cars, Buses, Subways. What are the main consumers of energy?

Electricity. What are the main sources of energy and electricity?

Hydroelectric Dam. Has there been much investments and programs in renewable energy (sustainable energy, green energy)? What are some examples?

Wind Turbines, Wind Power. Is there much debate, discussions, arguments and controversy over the global warming, the environment, the economy, jobs, etc?

Solar Panels, Thermal-solar Power. What might happen in the future?

Coal, Oil, Gas. What other solutions are there for environment destruction, global warming and climate change?

Geothermal Power. What could and should individuals do?

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