13 June 2019
Researchers from ETH Zurich have developed a novel technology that produces liquid hydrocarbon fuels exclusively from sunlight and air. For the first time worldwide they demonstrate the entire thermochemical process chain under real field conditions. The new solar mini-refinery is located on the roof of ETH’s Machine Laboratory building in Zurich.
Carbon-neutral fuels are crucial for making aviation and maritime transport sustainable. ETH researchers have developed a solar plant to produce synthetic liquid fuels that release as much CO2 during their combustion as previously extracted from the air for their production. CO2 and water are extracted directly from ambient air and split 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.
Aldo Steinfeld, Professor of Renewable Energy Carriers at ETH Zurich, and his research group developed the technology. “This plant proves that carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels can be made from sunlight and air under real field conditions,” he explained. “The thermochemical process utilises the entire solar spectrum and proceeds at high temperatures, enabling fast reactions and high efficiency.” The research plant at the heart of Zurich advances ETH’s research towards sustainable fuels.