Rio Tinto to partner with Heliogen’s solar technology for carbon free energy at Boron Mine

March 31, 2021

Rio Tinto announced an agreement with renewable energy technology company Heliogen to explore the deployment of Heliogen’s breakthrough solar technology at Rio Tinto’s borates mine in Boron, CA.

Heliogen, a start up backed by Bill Gates and others, will use artificial intelligence and an array of 40,000 computer-vision-controlled mirrors to harness the power of the sun, almost like a smart magnifying glass. The first system at Rio Tinto will be the size of about 100 football fields, Heliogen told CNN Business.

The company said its HelioHeat technology can create extreme heat — 1,000 degrees Celsius, or about a quarter of what's found on the surface of the sun. That's the kind of heat required to make cement, steel and in other industrial processes like mining that typically rely on fossil fuels to power their operations.

Rio Tinto and Heliogen will begin detailed planning and securing government permits for the project, with the aim of starting operations from 2022. The companies will also use the Boron installation to begin exploring the potential for deployments of Heliogen’s technology at Rio Tinto’s other operations around the world to supply process heat, which accounted for 14 percent of Scope 1 & 2 emissions from the Group’s managed operations in 2020.

Heliogen’s high-temperature solar technology is designed to cost-effectively replace fossil fuels with sunlight for a range of industrial processes, including those used in mining. Heliogen’s system will also store the captured energy in the form of heat, allowing it to power nighttime operations and providing the same uninterrupted energy stream offered by legacy fuels.

The Boron operation mines and refines borates into products ranging from fertilizers to construction materials and is producing lithium carbonate from a demonstration plant. The site currently generates steam using a natural gas cogeneration plant and natural gas fired boilers. Heliogen’s installation will supplement these energy sources by generating up to 35,000 pounds per hour of steam to power operations, with the potential to reduce carbon emissions at the Boron site by around 7 percent – equivalent to taking more than 5,000 cars off the road. Rio Tinto will also be assessing the potential for larger scale use of the Heliogen technology at Boron to reduce the site’s carbon footprint by up to 24 percent.

Heliogen’s mission of slashing global carbon emissions by replacing fossil fuels with sunlight, as well as its focus on industrial sectors, made them an ideal partner for Rio Tinto, which is committed to decarbonizing its global operations.

“This partnership with Heliogen has the potential to significantly reduce our emissions at Boron by using this groundbreaking solar technology, and we look forward to exploring opportunities across our global portfolio,” Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm said in a statement. “Addressing climate change effectively will require businesses, governments and society to work together through partnerships like this one, to explore innovative new solutions throughout the entire value chain. Our work with Heliogen is part of Rio Tinto’s commitment to spend approximately $1 billion on emissions reduction initiatives through to 2025 and our commitment to work with world-leading technology providers to achieve this goal.”

Heliogen CEO and Founder Bill Gross said: “Since it’s founding, Heliogen has been laser-focused on decarbonizing industrial sectors, including mining. As a result, this agreement with Rio Tinto is incredibly gratifying. We’re pleased to find a partner committed to cutting its contributions to climate change. We’re also pleased that Rio Tinto is exploring our technology to play an important role in helping reach its sustainability goals while dramatically reducing its energy costs. More broadly, we’re excited to take this important step as we pursue Heliogen’s goal of avoiding more than 1 gigaton of CO2 emissions – 5 percent of the world’s annual total – from the global economy by turning sunlight into an industrial energy source.”

 

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