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Scientists can produce jet fuel and diesel from the sun, carbon dioxide and water

Scientists can produce jet fuel and diesel from the sun, carbon dioxide and water

The video report at the beginning of this article shows the world’s first device that can produce hydrocarbon fuels such as aviation kerosene, that is, kerosene, but also diesel from the sun, carbon dioxide and water. The so-called multifunctional solar tower is the result of an international collaboration of scientists from Europe, especially from Switzerland, Spain and Germany.

The responsibility for technology and design rests with a team of researchers from the Federal University of Technology in Zurich. However, due to the local climate, it was built by the research institute IMDEA Energy in Madrid.

Funding from the European Union was coordinated by the Bauhaus Luftfahrt Institute of Technology from Bavaria, which was itself the largest contribution: one-sixth of the total 6.1 million euros, i.e. 150 million kroner. At the same time, the Swiss themselves invested 1.75 million francs from the state fund for education, research and innovation, which translates to about 44.2 million crowns.

How does the first device of its kind in the world work?

“We are the first to demonstrate the entire gamut of thermochemical processes that produce jet fuel from water and carbon dioxide in a fully integrated solar tower system,” he told the newspaper. science daily Professor Aldo Steinfeld from the Federal University of Technology in Zurich.

Photo: ETH Zurich, translation: Jan Marek

Schematic diagram of a multifunctional solar tower, producing jet fuel and diesel from the sun, water and carbon dioxide.

The power of the reactor itself is 50 kW, the main thing is that its inner shell is covered with a highly porous ceramic or spongy layer of cerium dioxide. Then, as a catalyst, it triggers important redox reactions of water and carbon dioxide, which are also injected into the reactor, thermally decomposing into synthesis gas, or a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This then goes to the condensing unit and in other processes, kerosene and diesel are produced from it at high temperatures and pressures. Everything is still solar powered.

Photo: ETH Zurich, translation: Jan Marek

Schematic diagram of a multifunctional solar tower, producing jet fuel and diesel from the sun, water and carbon dioxide.

Professor Steinfeld added: “This solar tower and fuel station was operated in an environment compatible with industrial use, setting a technological milestone towards sustainable aviation fuel production.”

The pilot plant does not yet have a large capacity. Scientists want to improve it

Scientists have tested the device so far for nine days in 62 start-up cycles lasting a total of 55 hours. During that time, the solar tower, reactor and plant in one produced approximately 5,200 liters of synthetic gas. The study and results have been printed by the publisher of the most prestigious scientific journals press cell. However, it no longer determines exactly how much kerosene and diesel it produces.

However, the plant is still only at the pilot project stage, i.e. a smaller test facility. According to the study, the efficiency of the first solar tower is also only 4.1 percent, while scientists aim to exceed 20 percent. This is by optimizing both thermal recycling and the structure of the cerium oxide ceramic layer in the reactor, the advantage of which is that it does not burn in the process and therefore can be used repeatedly.

Photo: ETH Zurich, translation: Jan Marek

Schematic diagram of a solar reactor to produce jet fuel and diesel from the sun, water and carbon dioxide.

The factory consumes the same amount of carbon dioxide as an airplane engine

In addition, kerosene produced with the help of solar energy does not have to replace jet fuel from petroleum initially. It is said that it can also be mixed with it. It is fully compatible with existing aerospace infrastructure, i.e. storage, distribution and use in the engine. The study also notes that “solar tower fuels represent a possible route to implement solar fuel production on a global scale.”

At the same time, the aviation sector emits about five percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, which is responsible for the increasingly observed climate change. And according to the Swiss, every drop counts in the struggle against it.

The Swiss also capture emissions directly from the air

The Swiss scientists’ project actually began in January 2016, when they only tested the device on a lab scale. Construction of a tower with a reactor and a plant in one of them began in Spain a year later.

At the same time, startup Synhelion sprang from the Federal University of Technology in Zurich due to the development and commercialization of the technology. However, it is not the only subsidiary company of the university. The science campus there has also given rise to Climeworks, which develops, builds and tests machines to capture the aforementioned CO2 from the air, which SZ Tech editors turned on As I wrote before.