Serial entrepreneur and Heliogen CEO Bill Gross calls it the Sunlight Refinery. In the fall of 2019, the Pasadena startup unveiled a Lancaster facility designed to capture carbon-free thermal energy at over 1,000 degrees Celsius using a cluster of mirrors.
Gross wants the system to power heavy industries like cement and steel processing and replace fossil fuels with entirely renewable energy.
On Tuesday, the company got a boost. It announced a $108 million investment from giants including the mining company ArcelorMittal and Edison International to deploy the system around the world.
"This infusion of new support for Heliogen comes at a time when the paradigm shift toward clean energy is even further accelerated by the new realities the world is facing," Gross said in a statement.
The founder nurtured the startup in his own Idealab incubator, also based in Pasadena, which has so far birthed some 150 companies tackling carbon emissions and global warming.
"We are trashing the Earth," Gross said to a crowd at last year's Upfront Summit. "The world is completely ready [for clean energy]. I am very passionate about making this a reality in my lifetime."
The lofty raise includes two separate funding rounds: a $25 million round followed by an oversubscribed $83 million boost that pulled in the new backers. Add those to Heliogen's previous investors: Bill Gates, Patrick Soon-Shiong, Nant Capital and others.
It comes three months after the company announced it would launch the AI-powered system at Rio Tinto's borates mine in Boron, California. Once set up, the system will power the mine by creating and storing carbon-free energy from solar heat — a move that would drop carbon emissions at the site "significantly," according to the company.
The company will sink the money into deploying the systems first in the U.S. before "other regions with strong solar resources."
"We're being granted the resources to do more projects that address the most carbon-intensive human activities and work toward our goals of lowering the price and emissions of energy for everyone on the planet," Gross said in a statement.
The goal, he continued, is a "post-carbon economy."
Henrik Fisker announced plans for what could be the world's first "climate neutral" vehicle, a car that will be built with the lowest-possible effect on the environment — from how the parts are sourced and assembled to the way it's charged and recycled.
The creator of eponymously named Fisker Inc. says the vehicle will be rolled out by 2027. That would edge out a promise made by Volvo Cars-owned Polestar in April to produce a climate neutral car by 2030.
"I think sustainability is going to be a big part of the future world. How we take care of the planet is going to be more and more important," said Fisker, the company's founder and CEO, on Tuesday during the company's first shareholders' call.
The climate neutral plan will cover all stages of the vehicle in what Fisker establishes as five stages of the product's life cycle.
"We will prioritize partners with stated pledges to achieve climate neutrality," Fisker said. "We already deployed cross-company teams focused on sourcing climate positive materials and critical components such as aluminum, steel, electronics and lithium-ion batteries from companies with carbon-neutral commitments."
Fisker said suppliers will be located closer to where the vehicles are made and guided to use recycled and remanufactured components. At the same time, he said the company is also looking to figure out how to directly deliver vehicles to customer homes, rather than having diesel-powered car carriers transport them to a dealership lot, as a way to reduce environmental impact.
Fisker has bet a focus on sustainability will win the hearts of buyers and minds of regulators. The automaker, which went public via a SPAC last fall, still plans a line of four models by the end of 2025 and said he's not concerned about production delays because of the component shortages that have plagued the auto industry this year.
Among the planned vehicles, the Manhattan Beach-based company is contemplating an all-electric compact pickup truck that could rival crosstown startup Canoo's planned vehicles, the company's founder and CEO said Tuesday in Fisker's first shareholders' call.
A pickup truck, which Fisker teased in a tweet on Dec. 31, would likely not only go after upcoming electric models from Torrance-based Canoo and Rivian, but also the Ford F-150 Lightning and upcoming General Motors models like the GMC Hummer EV. If inexpensive and compact, it could also compete against the recently announced Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz compact pickup trucks.
The Ocean SUV is still scheduled to start production in the fourth quarter of 2022, with the first vehicles reaching customers by the end of that year. Fisker said the company plans to keep the Ocean EV SUV in its circulation of cars leased out to consumers for 10 to 15 years before it's recycled. The average age of a car on U.S. roads was 11.9 years in 2020, according to IHS Markit.
Rather than the off-lease vehicle reappearing on a used car lot, Fisker will take back ownership, recondition it and keep leasing it out for the remainder of the vehicle's life.
"We take the vehicle, we maintain it and we send it back out. That is sustainability," Fisker said.
Another vehicle, likely to be an SUV that will "redefine what a luxury vehicle of the future will be like" is also planned. The price target for this vehicle was unclear, but it would be higher than the $38,000 base price of the Ocean.
In February, Fisker announced a deal with iPhone manufacturer Foxconn to collaborate on a small electric car. He told dot.LA this sub-$30,000 vehicle currently called Project PEAR would be radically designed and targeted to all income and age categories, similar to BMW-owned Mini's approach with its small cars.
Fisker said Tuesday there have been no talks between Apple and his company despite the Foxconn deal.
Fisker is also working on a system that would direct drivers to public charging stations powered by renewable energy sources, Fisker said. And while the company will prioritize relationships with companies that use such energy, he admitted there will be little way to ensure customers were using sustainable energy to home-charge their vehicles.
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The local startup is planning to retrofit hydrogen power into aircraft aiming to get commercial flights powered by renewable energy in four years.
Hawthorne-based Universal Hydrogen announced Thursday it raised $20.5 million in Series A financing round with a syndicate involving Airbus Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, and led by Palo Alto-based venture fund Playground Global.
Founded in 2020, Universal Hydrogen is seeking to eliminate carbon emissions during flight using liquid hydrogen, —produced using renewable power — to feed fuel cells.
"The issue is that the aviation sector is one of the last to decarbonize, but the solution exists," Universal Hydrogen co-founder and CEO Paul Eremenko said in an interview.
The company is developing hydrogen fuel cell retrofit kits for existing regional commercial aircraft with between 40 and 60 seats. Universal Hydrogen has a goal of having the first commercial flight with a hydrogen-powered aircraft by 2025, with initial running costs it says would be equivalent to a conventionally-powered plane and eventually decrease.
Aircraft account for 10% of U.S. transportation emissions and 3% of the nation's total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA.
But as passenger air travel is expected to grow over the next decade or two, and other sectors — including the automotive sector — are making aggressive moves to reduce carbon emissions, it will become even more important for the aviation sector to decarbonize, Eremenko said.
"We want to be the catalyst for that shift," he said.
Airbus has said hydrogen is increasingly considered one of the "most promising zero-emission technologies for future aircraft." Last year, it released hydrogen aircraft concepts that could enter service by 2035.
Universal Hydrogen says the Series A funding will allow it to continue developing the retrofit kits, as well as build a fuel distribution network that uses existing freight services and avoids significant renovations to pipelines and other current fueling networks. Earlier this year, it received an investment from Trucks Venture Capital to scale its Los Angeles-area engineering operations to build liquid hydrogen modules and work on powertrain development.
Ideally, Eremenko wants airlines like Boeing and Airbus to equip their airplanes, like the 737 MAX, with hydrogen fuel technology for aircraft that will go into service in the 2030s.
Eremenko used the analogy of Nespresso to explain the business model. Nespresso created the coffee capsule technology, but needed to build the first coffee maker to demonstrate how the capsules work. Now, other companies have built coffee makers that use the capsules.
"In the long run, we want other people to build coffee makers that work with our capsules," he said. "We don't want to be in the coffee maker business, we want to be in the capsule business."
Universal Hydrogen's funding announcement came the same day President Joe Biden committed the United States to at least halving the country's greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by the end of the decade. In a separate move, the Biden administration said it would allow California and other states to create their own emissions standards and zero emissions mandates, reversing a 2019 rule by the Trump administration that blocked such measures. California and 23 other groups later sued that administration.
While Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg's focus this year has been on plug-in electric vehicles and the charging stations they require, hydrogen is having a moment in California, with several companies championing the technology, especially for commercial purposes.
Toyota has operated hydrogen-powered Class 8 semi-trailer trucks at the Port of Los Angeles since 2017. On Thursday, TravelCenters of America said it would install hydrogen stations through a new eTA subsidiary, with a partnership including heavy-duty truck startup Nikola and a $4 million grant from the California Energy Commission.