Oil and gas giant Woodside Petroleum has agreed to help fund the construction of a 5MWe concentrated solar technology demonstration plant in California’s Mojave Desert, and has struck a deal that could see it use the technology for green hydrogen and other uses in Australia and around the world.

The deal – first flagged last year – has been struck with the California-based and Bill Gates-backed Heliogen, which was founded in 2013 with the goal of “replacing fossil fuels with the power of sunlight” and which has developed its own “AI-enabled” concentrated solar technology.

Heliogen concentrated solar

Heliogen concentrated solar power technology

The Mojave Desert has been the location and the burial ground over the past decade of a series of concentrated solar technologies, which look to use large fields of mirrors to reflect sunlight to a target on the top of a tower where electricity or heat is produced or stored.

The technology has proved either too expensive or has had insurmountable technical challenges, including the SolarReserve technology that had grand plans for a massive $1 billion Aurora solar thermal project near Port Augusta before going bankrupt after problems at its flagship project in Nevada.

But the technology is now enjoying a mini renaissance, thanks to the success of projects in Chile, the work of RayGen in Australia (backed by AGL), and also companies like Heliogen and Australia’s Vast Solar.

Heliegon CEO and founder Bill Gross – who is also founder and chairman of gravity storage company Energy Vault – says his technology can store the solar energy (in tightly packed rock beds or salts), and deliver either “near” 24/7 power, heat for industrial uses, or incorporate a hydrogen electrolyser.

Gross describes this as a “sunlight refinery”, which might be a description that appeals to Woodside, given its oil and gas precedents.

The deal between the two companies will see Woodside Energy take an as yet unspecified equity stake in Heliogen and buy the components for a 5MWe concentrated solar plant in Mojave, which will also tap into funds made available from a $US39 million grant from the US Department of Energy.

The two companies have also signed an agreement to jointly market Heliogen’s technology in Australia for use by Woodside and other Australian customers.