Heliogen CEO Bill Gross has dreamed of harnessing the sun since the 1973 energy crisis, when he sold DIY solar panels. Those sales helped put him through college. When oil prices plummeted, he took a detour to build software—you can thank him for inventing pay-per-click ads—before he founded Heliogen in 2013, with funding from Bill Gates. Last fall, the company fired up this first array. “It was a bit like watching a lunar landing,” Gross says.
Uber's self-driving cars could be crucial to the company reversing operating losses that topped $3 billion last year. If it works, that self-driving technology might finally lead the ride-hailing company to the kind of profitability its investors—who have sunk more than $22 billion into Uber already—would like to see.
The WIRED Guide to Climate Change
The world is getting warmer, the weather is getting worse. Here's everything you need to know about what humans can do to stop wrecking the planet.
Similar arrays have been used to make electricity and tasty SunChips, and even drill for oil. But those peak around 1,000 degrees, because each heliostat has to be individually calibrated and can fall out of alignment over time. With Heliogen, cameras atop the tower scan the sky, and image analysis software computes the optimal position for each mirror, which can rotate in increments smaller than 1/160 of a degree. Gross says such efficiency can deliver heat 20 percent more cheaply than fossil fuels can.
Being tall, white, enthusiastic, and good at computers, I’ve ended up the CEO of a software services company, working for various large enterprises to build their digital dreams—which you’d figure would be like being a kid in a candy store for me, sculpting software experiences all day until they ship to the web or into app stores.
As proof of concept, Heliogen has mounted a kiln atop the tower to directly heat limestone, a key step in making cement. This year the company plans to link with commercial partners that have the ample shadowless land required. Gross is also building a receiver that can handle temperatures above 2,700 degrees. That kind of hellfire can create synthetic hydrogen, which could replace oil-based fuels. “Civilization depends on cement and steel—our roads, travel, everything,” Gross says. “We've found a way to clean it up.”
Laura Mallonee (@LauraMallonee) writes about photography for WIRED.This article appears in the February issue. Subscribe now .
The number of heat waves affecting the planet’s oceans has increased sharply, scientists have revealed, killing swathes of sea life like “wildfires that take out huge areas of forest.” The damage caused in these hotspots is also harmful for humanity, which relies on the oceans for oxygen, food, storm protection and the removal of climate-warming carbon dioxide the atmosphere, they say.
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