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CSP: Solar Breakthroughs from South Africa to the Mojave Desert
Other innovations 18/12/2019

CSP: Solar Breakthroughs from South Africa to the Mojave Desert

ENGIE, Heliogen and Solpart are all using the breakthrough technology Concentrated Solar Power to bring renewable solutions to the concrete sector. The potential of harnessing energy from the sun’s rays are virtually infinite. For today’s solar power sector, the hurdles to making it a reality can also seem endless: the development and deployment of technology to maximize energy capture, overcoming the challenge of storage, the long-term financing required to scale. But like every important innovation race, exciting breakthroughs in solar can pave the way for a truly sustainable future. 

ENGIE is among the global companies that have been applying Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), a technique that uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight and convert it into heat, which is considered by some experts to be a potentially history-changing breakthrough in solar energy development.    

HELIOGEN is a U.S.-based company touting what it says is just such a cutting-edge solar solution.

The startup recently came out of “stealth mode” — having actively avoided publicity during six years of development — to announce that they have invented a new technique to use CSP to produce cement. This is no small feat: 

- Their 400 robotic heliotrope mirrors in the Mojave desert are able to generate heat above 1800°F, the range of difficult to generate temperatures needed to produce cement. 

- With double the carbon footprint of the airline industry, the cement sector accounts for 8% of worldwide emissions and had been hard pressed to find clean energy solutions

- It’s a potential momentous technology that could revolutionize the construction industry, and has garnered widespread media attention and the financial backing of Bill Gates.

- Heliogen’s challenge now is to scale their products and prepare for commercialization. 

SOLPART was the first company to demonstrate that CSP-generated heat could be used for industrial purposes, with another approach to try to maximize solar energy capture:

- Using the world’s largest solar furnace, they designed and tested two different cement reactors, both of which worked.  

- While Heliogen uses AI to make sure its mirrors are always at the right angle, Solpart uses one enormous parabolic mirror that is 17 stories high. 

- They plan to open a cement plant that’s partially solar powered in Spain by 2025.           

- Solpart is currently working on finding a suitable way to store surplus solar energy so they can continue making cement even when the sun isn’t shining. 

KATHU is a solar park in South Africa that has the potential to produce 700 cubic meters of concrete a day. It is ENGIE’s first foray into CSP:     

- The park’s molten salt storage system can provide up to 4.5 hours of thermal energy when there isn’t enough sun.

- The 4.5 km² plant with 384,000 parabolic mirrors began commercial operations in early 2019, making it one of South Africa’s largest renewable energy projects.   

- In addition to cement creation, the park will deliver energy to 179,000 homes in nearby municipalities.

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