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Carbon-neutral fuel made from sunlight and air

Researchers from ETH Zurich have developed an innovative solar mini-refinery that can produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels exclusively from sunlight and air. The technology demonstrates the entire thermochemical process chain under real field conditions for the first time worldwide. The solar plant extracts CO2 and water from ambient air using solar energy, yielding syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which is then converted into kerosene, methanol, or other hydrocarbons. These carbon-neutral drop-in fuels can be used in the existing global transport infrastructure, making aviation and maritime transport more sustainable.

The solar mini-refinery, located on the roof of ETH Zurich’s Machine Laboratory building, produces around one decilitre of fuel per day. The researchers plan to scale up the technology for industrial implementation, with the potential to produce 20,000 liters of kerosene per day in a solar plant covering one square kilometre. This technology holds promise for mitigating global CO2 emissions and providing a sustainable solution for the aviation industry’s fuel needs.

The research group has already established two spin-off companies: Synhelion, which commercializes the solar fuel production technology, and Climeworks, which commercializes the technology for CO2 capture from the air. The next project goal is to make the technology economically competitive and efficiently produce sustainable fuels on a large scale, contributing to a greener and carbon-neutral future.

Kathleen Jones
Kathleen Jones
Articles: 43

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