The road to market for solar fuels

Our inspiration for solar fuels began with an extraordinary idea: What if it was possible to reverse combustion and generate fuel from air and sunlight?
Two years ago, in June 2019, we produced the first drop of solar fuel under real field conditions. The demonstration at ETH Zurich was a world-first, and the solar mini-refinery on the institution’s roof remains the only facility in the world capable of producing carbon-neutral methanol from ambient air and sunlight. It can generate one deciliter of the climate-friendly fuel per day.
We have since taken large strides along the road to market for solar fuels, moving the world toward net zero. Keep reading to find out when we expect our solar fuels to be market-ready.

Scaling proven technology

One of the challenges we overcame when scaling our technology was the necessity for extremely high-temperature process heat at 1’000 to 1’500°C, which existing solar receivers weren’t able to generate. To overcome this obstacle, our CEO, Dr. Gianluca Ambrosetti, invented a completely novel type of solar receiver.

The original idea for a novel type of solar receiver that would generate the extremely hot temperatures needed for the production of solar fuels came to Synhelion’s CEO Gianluca Ambrosetti while on holiday in St. Moritz. He scribbled it on this napkin.

A prototype of this new solar receiver was built and subsequently tested at the German Aerospace Center’s Synlight facility in March 2020. It outperformed state-of-the-art solar receivers by 550°C, marking a major breakthrough for the solar thermal industry.

The German Aerospace Center’s Synlight facility houses the world’s largest artificial sun and provided perfect conditions for testing our 250 kW solar receiver.
With the new 1’500°C solar receiver proven to work, we achieved a crucial step toward scaling our technology.

At the same time, we performed another field demonstration. For this, we scaled our technology and tested it at the 1’000 m2 solar field at the IMDEA Energy Institute in Madrid.

Very High Concentration Solar Tower of IMDEA Energy located in Móstoles, Spain
With our new 1’500°C solar receiver proven to work, we scaled our technology to the 1’000 m2 solar field at the IMDEA Energy Institute in Madrid.

Creating impact fast

We are working on scaling the production of carbon-neutral solar fuels from air and sunlight and aim to bring them to market in a few years. In the meantime, we produce solar fuels that substantially reduce net carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels, reducing CO2 emissions sooner and minimizing the impact of transportation on climate change faster.

What is solar fuel and how does it work?

Synhelion uses solar heat to convert CO2 into synthetic fuels. We call them solar fuels. A field of mirrors concentrates solar radiation in a focal point, where it is turned into high-temperature process heat. The generated heat drives a thermochemical reactor to produce syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The syngas is then processed by standard gas-to-liquids technology into liquid fuels such as gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel. Solar fuel production runs 24/7 thanks to integrated thermal energy storage. Synhelion’s solar fuels are compatible with conventional international combustion engines and aircraft turbines and reduce net carbon emissions by up to 100 percent.

This approach aligns with the goals set in the Paris Agreement and acknowledges the need for cost-effective solutions that drastically reduce CO2 emissions early on in this decade. The market entry of our climate-friendly solar fuels is planned for 2023. Zurich Airport has already committed to buying the entire available annual volume of sustainable fuel we will produce at this time at cost price.

Building on our partnerships with Eni, Cemex, and Lufthansa Group, we recently partnered with Wood to jointly build, commission, and test a complete system on the 80’000 m2 concentrated solar facility at the German Aerospace Center in 2021. This facility will demonstrate syngas production – the predecessor to liquid fuels – on an industrial scale and bring us another step closer to commercial solar fuel production.

Over 2000 mirrors focus the sunlight to the solar towers at the German Aerospace Center in Jülich. The solar facility is 80 times bigger than the one in Madrid and therefore offers ideal conditions to test our solar fuel technology on industrial scale. Source: DLR

Our solar fuels are fully compatible with existing infrastructure. As a result, every single drop of solar fuel entering the existing supply chain immediately reduces CO2 emissions in the transportation sector, moving us closer toward net zero.

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