Australia’s Woodside Petroleum is partnering with Pasadena-based technology player Heliogen to build a commercial-scale demonstration facility in California using the latter’s “breakthrough” solar technology.

Woodside confirmed Monday it had granted Heliogen a limited notice to proceed to begin the procurement of key equipment for the 5-megawatt demonstration facility that will use Heliogen’s artificial intelligence enabled concentrated solar technology.

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Woodside describes Heliogen’s technology as a modular, turnkey, AI-enabled concentrated solar energy system that aims to deliver clean energy with nearly 24/7 availability.

The demonstration facility will utilise advanced computer vision software that precisely aligns an array of mirrors to reflect sunlight to a single target on the top of a solar tower, thereby enabling low-cost storage in the form of high-temperature thermal energy.

Heliogen claims its baseline system will provide industrial-grade heat capable of replacing fossil fuels in industrial processes including the production of cement, steel, and petrochemicals, while it can enable power generation through the addition of a supercritical CO2 turbine, and green hydrogen fuel production in combination with an electrolyser.

Heliogen chief executive, and founder, Bill Gross said the company’s technology had the potential to transform heavy industry by “turning sunlight into a zero-carbon source of heat, power and hydrogen that is nearly always available”.

“Although costs of large-scale solar are falling, conventional solar technologies are not yet cost-competitive with fossil fuels in most energy markets due to their intermittent availability,” he added.

“Heliogen’s technology aims to close this gap through the use of AI, software and thermal storage. As the energy sector is ripe for applications of green hydrogen fuels and decarbonisation strategies, Woodside is an ideal collaborator for our breakthrough solar technology, which will support the operational characteristics of heavy industry.”

Woodside’s decision to issue the limited notice to proceed followed a six-month feasibility study by the two companies and a front-end engineering and design contract that started earlier this year.

Woodside said Monday that it anticipates a full notice to proceed and construction to start on the demonstration facility next year.

Marketing technology

The two companies also intend to jointly market Heliogen’s technology in the US and Australia, with the joint marketing agreement to see the pair consider establishing a roadmap to collaborate on additional potential renewable energy projects.

The arrangements under discussion include a framework to design, optimise and sell modularised industrial-scale and cost-competitive integrated renewable energy and hydrogen solutions in the US and marketing rights for Woodside in Australia.

Woodside will also look to potentially use the technology to support its forecasted power requirements at its international facilities as part of its decarbonisation strategy as it targets net zero emissions by 2050.

“Heliogen’s innovative technology could play a key supporting role in development of Woodside’s zero-carbon hydrogen and ammonia business, which would rely on access to abundant and reliable renewable power,” Woodside chief executive Meg O’Neill said.

“We are also excited about the marketing rights for Heliogen’s technology in Australia, where our abundant solar energy resources support application of this technology in remote power generation and other industrial processes.”

Path to net zero: chief executive Meg O'Neill says Heliogen's technology could help support Woodside's decarbonisation plans Photo: WOODSIDE

Heliogen, which has billionaire backing from the likes of Bill Gates and Patrick Soon-Shiong, recently merged with special purpose acquisition company Athena Technology Acquisition, with the new entity carrying a pro forma enterprise value of $2 billion.

Earlier this year, Heliogen also signed a memorandum of understanding with international mining giant Rio Tinto to explore using its technology at Rio’s borates mine in Boron, California.

Using Heliogen's technology to power the mine's industrial processes has the potential to reduce carbon emissions at the Boron site by roughly 7%, according to Rio, which would be the equivalent to taking more than 5000 cars off the road.