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Bill Gross
Founder and CEO
Heliogen

06 October 2022

What was the rationale behind founding Heliogen and the company’s current footprint?

Our mission is to decarbonize industry, with the world’s industrial producers estimated to generate over 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. We started as a technology company in 2013, and in 2019 we achieved a significant milestone, proving that we can achieve temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius from the sun to replace fossil fuels with concentrated sunlight. This heat could then be used by industries such as steel, aluminum, cement and so on, which need thermal energy. The pandemic had the dual effect of pausing our business temporarily, and then starting it with a bigger force than ever, as oil prices dropped in 2020 and everyone realized that the energy transition was in full swing. The war in Ukraine further accentuated how important it is to have energy independence and is spurring the development of renewables. The geological lottery is no way to run the world. 

What has been the reaction to Heliogen’s offering since and what sort of partnerships have you been engaging in?

Our strategic and commercial relationships include some of the largest energy, mining and steel companies in the world, and we are focused on deploying our technology in their facilities to help them cost-effectively achieve their decarbonization goals. Last year we signed a deal with Woodside, Australia’s largest natural gas company, whose CEO created a USD 5 billion budget for renewables, looking at green hydrogen and other future technologies. Rio Tinto is another example that asked to use Heliogen’s concentrated sunlight to reduce their carbon footprint. Many CEOs are shifting focus in this direction and since the war broke out we have been contacted by companies from Mexico to the Middle East. 

Are you able to scale up fast enough to meet all this demand?

In order to scale up we went public on the NYSE in December and raised quite a bit over the initial VC money. We are using the funds to build a robotic manufacturing facility in the US, that can then be replicated on each continent, to meet local demand. We hired a former SpaceX executive to lead our manufacturing and supply chains. There are several reasons for starting with the United States, a key one being the Inflation Reduction Act. There is a multiplier effect in the IRA, the USD 400 billion offered by the government will turn into USD 4 trillion with the funds matched by the industry. This is the biggest game changer in the US’ energy history.  Further afield, we are also focusing on Australia, Chile and South Africa, remote places with huge amounts of sun. Countries that were once left out of the equation can now harness the sun to name renewable hydrogen and start exporting energy, spurring social justice. 

One of the scopes of the IRA is to help onshore the supply chain, how are you finding the sourcing of materials and services at the moment?

The IRA has a 30% tax discount for solar projects and an additional 10% if you employ it in a disadvantaged economic zone. There is yet an additional 10% rebate if you source 40% of all materials in the US. We will still need to buy the special glass from Spain and some of the motors from Vietnam or China, but the aluminum, steel and many other materials and components we will definitely be sourcing locally. The world does not yet realize how many supply chain hurdles we will have as a result of climate change, from rivers drying up to global transport lanes shifting, to more forced migration. The investment to solve these issues now is far greater than the repercussions. 

How are you addressing issues surrounding electricity intermittence and are you also working on storage technologies?

Intermittence is critical because it limits the cheap electricity we can otherwise get from wind and solar. So how do we solve it?

 

Batteries are one way, but they are very expensive when it comes to powering the whole grid, the world doesn’t even have enough lithium. So here is our solution - instead of storing electrons, we store heat.

 

We concentrate the sun to 1000 degrees and store it in rocks, which is cheap and keeps the heat insulated for a week. Our customers need heat, which makes this a perfect solution, that also solves intermittency in a novel way. 

What are your near terms plans and ambitions for Heliogen?

We are very excited about ramping up our facility so that we can decarbonize with the use of concentrated sunlight at scale. The applications are endless, and particularly in decarbonizing the mining field that is seeing soaring demand for lithium and other key materials. There is no point in manufacturing electric vehicles if the process of making their parts is just as polluting as traditional vehicles. Energy is crucial to society, it is the life fuel and in this era we must switch from chemistry and the burning of everything we can get our hands on, to physics, and the smart use of technology. And there is no financial penalty for this, on the contrary, the future of energy is more affordable.

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