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"Solar" jet fuel created from water and carbon dioxide

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May 1, 2014

The solar reactor that was used to turn water and CO2 into jet fuel

The solar reactor that was used to turn water and CO2 into jet fuel

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In a move that could help address our insatiable thirst for fuel while at the same time help cut CO2 emissions, scientists with the SOLAR-JET (Solar chemical reactor demonstration and Optimization for Long-term Availability of Renewable Jet fuel) project have recently shown that through a multi-step process, concentrated sunlight can be used to convert carbon dioxide into kerosene, which can then be used as jet fuel.

"Increasing environmental and supply security issues are leading the aviation sector to seek alternative fuels which can be used interchangeably with today’s jet fuel, so-called drop-in solutions," says Dr. Andreas Sizmann, the project coordinator at Bauhaus Luftfahrt. "With this first-ever proof-of-concept for 'solar' kerosene, the SOLAR-JET project has made a major step towards truly sustainable fuels with virtually unlimited feedstocks in the future."

How it works

Schematic of the solar reactor configuration for the 2-step solar-driven thermochemical pr...

Although in an early stage of development, the process uses a solar-driven redox cycle with metal-oxide based materials at high temperatures to rearrange electrons, converting carbon dioxide and water into hydrogen and carbon monoxide, also known as synthesis gas (syngas).

“The solar reactor technology features enhanced radiative heat transfer and fast reaction kinetics, which are crucial for maximizing the solar-to-fuel energy conversion efficiency,” says Professor Aldo Steinfeld, leading the fundamental research and development of the solar reactor at ETH Zürich.

The process is then completed using the Fischer-Tropsch process, which is already approved to create fuel for commercial aviation and is used worldwide by companies such as Shell. Developed in 1925, the process takes the hydrogen and carbon monoxide from the syngas, and creates kerosene in liquid form, making it relatively simple to transport.

The impact

"This is potentially a very interesting novel pathway to liquid hydrocarbon fuels using focused solar power," says Professor Hans Geerlings at Shell. “Although the individual steps of the process have previously been demonstrated at various scales, no attempt had been made previously to integrate the end-to-end system. We look forward to working with the project partners to drive forward research and development in the next phase of the project on such an ambitious emerging technology.”

The next phase of the project will require the partners to determine the potential to implement the technology on an industrial scale. At this point, a glass of fuel has been created in a lab with simulated sunlight. It will take significant research and testing to determine if the technology can scale up and remain both cost and energy efficient. This evaluation is expected to be completed in 2015.

End products, turning sunlight, water, and CO2 into jet fuel

"This technology means we might one day produce cleaner and plentiful fuel for planes, cars and other forms of transport," says Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science. "This could greatly increase energy security and turn one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming into a useful resource."

Sources: ETH Zurich, European Union, SOLAR-JET

About the Author
Meg Alexander Meg Alexander started traveling around the world in 2014, and the road led her straight to Gizmag. As a child, she annoyed her family by asking "why?" and "how?" incessantly, and she hasn't stopped since. Coming from a long family line of journalists, it's only natural that she now formulates the answers she finds into articles.   All articles by Meg Alexander
10 Comments

I can't see this as being very viable. The system is limited by the flux of available sunlight. More area means more available sunlight, but at the cost of the infrastructure to gather it and the environmental impact of the sunlight not arriving where it had previously.

Victor Engel
2nd May, 2014 @ 08:30 am PDT

True, the Fischer Tropsch process for making hydrocarbon is old tech using H2 and CO in the second stage. But the new solar conversion of CO2 and water plus carrier forming CO and H2 also produces O2, MW 32, which will be difficult and dangerous to separate from the similar CO, MW 28 by any diffusion based process. May look good on paper and in trials but scaling to mega tons will be formidable challenge.

rutnerh
2nd May, 2014 @ 10:51 am PDT

Perfectly suited to the Southwestern US, and most of Australia. Both have large unpopulated areas that receive lots of sunshine.

Beaugrand_RTMC
2nd May, 2014 @ 11:54 am PDT

@ Victor Engel

So you are saying that solar power can't work because the sunlight won't be hitting the ground.

When oil finally is in short supply this might be a practical way to produce motor fuel certainly better than than taking a side tripe into electricity on the way.

Slowburn
2nd May, 2014 @ 12:33 pm PDT

lisc & mass produce this worldwide

awesome, need to tune for cars & trucks too.

Radical. Now will Big Oil bite this for fuel or No??

Stephen N Russell
2nd May, 2014 @ 03:01 pm PDT

meg - how annoying that

it took me 5 minutes of searching to find out that CPC stood for "compound parabolic concentrator"

Next time you grab a graphic, be kind enough to pull the acronyms from the text:

http://www.pre.ethz.ch/publications/journals/full/j253.pdf

Steve Jasik
3rd May, 2014 @ 05:14 pm PDT

If it can be successfully be scaled up to practical size, could we see vehicles - trucks, buses, at least - with rooftop solar panels for power supplying a small device to supply a kerosene-using turbine for propulsion?

Also home carport roof panels and connected devices for home vehicle use?

Just let it run during the day, filling a storage tank on the wall, just like the ones used for house heating systems.

You come home at night, refill your tank with kerosene, and commute in the morning. Would work just like recharging your battery driven vehicle overnight - with stored power or with grid power.

The Skud
4th May, 2014 @ 06:52 pm PDT

THIS is alternative, renewable energy we can go right now! And it works.

Elmer Neutzling
5th May, 2014 @ 06:16 am PDT

But the electricity created is actually more energy than making the fuel

Andrew Zuckerman
11th May, 2014 @ 02:53 am PDT

Probably the best method is cogenerate. Because only a fraction of the energy will be used by the fuel conversion, the remaining heat could be used as usual in a turbine for generate electricity.

Of course, the fuel generator chamber will lower the temperature, so electricity conversion will be less efficient, but fuel will have a price near a 100% conversion efficiency from cogeneration, so if renewable energy lowers the price enough, or oil fuel rise enough, it will cross in some point.

In any case, cogeneration will be more efficient...

Of course, it won't be fuel competitive at today costs, but it could be useful as a demostration technology and put a limit to fuel costs.

Zanstel
21st May, 2014 @ 08:08 am PDT
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