Carbon Neutral Fuel Development From Sun and Air

Samantha Zeitz

While dire predictions about the future continue to make the headlines daily, there are creative minds around the world that have hope and are working to develop ways to protect the environment. Researchers from ETH Zurich are part of a growing field of experts in the energy field determined to bring us carbon neutral fuel. Specifically, they are trying to change the future with their new carbon neutral fuel development from sun and air.

ETH researchers have created a solar plant that produced carbon-neutral synthetic liquid fuels that could create sustainable transportation. What this means is the fuel will still release CO2 into the environment but it extracts the same amount of CO2 from the air during its creation. The process uses solar energy to split CO2 from water and outputs syngas, which is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. It is currently processed into kerosene, methanol and other hydrocarbons that can be used in existing global transport infrastructure.

Aldo Steinfeld, Professor of Renewable Energy Carriers at ETH Zurich told Science Daily that with solar power the process is happening at high temperatures that allow fast reactions and high efficiency. They are currently using the technology at a solar mini-refinery located on the roof of ETH Zurich. At its small scale, the plant produces one decilitre of fuel every day.

They’re already working towards a larger-scale test of their solar reactor and will soon be bringing their technology to a solar tower near Madrid. Following that step, the researchers plan to scale their technology for industrial use and provide competitive pricing.

According to their calculations, if they were to create a solar plant the size of one square kilometer it could produce 20,000 litres of kerosene every day. The larger the solar plant size, the more sustainable to aviation and maritime industries it can become.