A new technology produces liquid hydrocarbon fuels exclusively from sunlight and air.
Carbon-neutral fuels are crucial for making aviation and maritime transport sustainable. The new solar plant produces synthetic liquid fuels that release as much CO2 during their combustion as previously extracted from the air for their production.
The system extracts CO2 and water directly from ambient air and splits them using solar energy. This process yields syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which is subsequently processed into kerosene, methanol, or other hydrocarbons. These drop-in fuels are ready for use in the existing global transport infrastructure.
The parabolic reflector bundles the light and directs it to the two reactors in the middle of the plant. (Credit: Alessandro Della Bella/ETH Zurich)
Proof of concept
“This plant proves that carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels can be made from sunlight and air under real field conditions,” explains Aldo Steinfeld, a professor of renewable energy carriers at ETH Zurich whose research group developed the technology. “The thermochemical process utilizes the entire solar spectrum and proceeds at high temperatures, enabling fast reactions and high efficiency.”
The solar mini-refinery on a Zurich roof proves that the technology is feasible, even under the climate conditions prevalent in the city. It produces around one deciliter of fuel per day (a little less than half a cup).
The fuel that the solar refinery produces. (Credit: Alessandro Della Bella/ETH Zurich)
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
Steinfeld and his group are already working on a large-scale test of their solar reactor in a solar tower near Madrid, carried out within the scope of the EU’s Sun-to-Liquid project.
The next goal is to scale the technology for industrial implementation and make it economically competitive.
“A solar plant spanning an area of one square kilometer could produce 20,000 liters of kerosene a day,” says Philipp Furler, director of Synhelion and a former doctoral student in Steinfeld’s group. “Theoretically, a plant the size of Switzerland—or a third of the Californian Mojave Desert—could cover the kerosene needs of the entire aviation industry. Our goal for the future is to efficiently produce sustainable fuels with our technology and thereby mitigate global CO2 emissions.”
The research plant produces syngas, which can be processed into liquid hydrocarbon fuels through conventional methanol or Fischer–Tropsch synthesis. (Credit: Alessandro Della Bella/ETH Zurich)
How the solar refinery works
The process chain of the new system combines three thermochemical conversion processes:
- The extraction of CO2 and water from the air.
- The solar-thermochemical splitting of CO2 and water.
- Their subsequent liquefaction into hydrocarbons.
An adsorption/desorption process extracts CO2 and water directly from ambient air. Both then enter the solar reactor at the focus of a parabolic reflector. Solar radiation is concentrated by a factor of 3,000, generating heat at a temperature of 1,500 degrees Celsius inside the solar reactor.
At the heart of the solar reactor is a ceramic structure made of cerium oxide, which enables a two-step reaction—the redox cycle—to split water and CO2 into syngas. This mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide can then be processed into liquid hydrocarbon fuels through conventional methanol or Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.
Two spin-offs have already emerged from Steinfeld’s research group: Synhelion, founded in 2016, which commercializes the solar fuel production technology, and Climeworks, founded already in 2010, which commercializes the technology for CO2 capture from air.
Source: ETH Zurich
Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming
by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon
Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy
by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
by Naomi Klein
In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon
From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.