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 CO
during their combustion as previously extracted from the air for their production. CO
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.
A small demonstration unit with big potential
The solar mini-refinery on the roof of ETH Zurich proves that the technology is feasible, even under the climate conditions prevalent in Zurich. It produces around one decilitre of fuel per day. Steinfeld and his group are already working on a large-scale test of their solar reactor in a solar tower near Madrid, which is carried out within the scope of the EU project
. The solar tower plant is presented to the public in Madrid at the same time today as the mini-refinery in Zurich.