A portable unit that makes liquid fuels from atmospheric CO2 with the help of solar power

Solar-powered plant to make fuel from air and water

Image credit: Credit: Tte Lappeenranta University of Technology

A plant that fits into a shipping container is to pilot production of gasoline, diesel and kerosene from carbon dioxide extracted from ambient air with the help of solar power.

The first device of its kind, the plant has been developed jointly by German and Swedish researchers as part of a project called SOLETAIR and will soon begin testing in Finland.

“Projects, such as SOLETAIR, are essential for the success of the energy turnaround,” said Professor Thomas Hirth, from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany.

The plant consists of a direct air capture unit developed by the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT) that extracts carbon dioxide from the air, an electrolysis unit developed by Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) producing hydrogen by solar-powered electrolysis of water and a micro-structured chemical reactor converting the hydrogen and carbon dioxide into synthetic liquid fuels.

KIT, which originally developed the technology, has now passed the project on to a spin-out company called INERATEC, which will deploy the prototype at the facilities of its partner, LUT, in the Bioruukki Piloting Centre. The prototype will operate until mid-2018.

“Commissioning of this pilot plant is an example of successful transfer of KIT’s research innovations to industry,” Professor Hirth commented.

The project received €1m of funding from the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes).

The researchers envision the demonstration plant could function as a refuelling station for vehicles running on hydrogen or natural gas.

In order to halt the progress of climate change, as many sectors as possible will have to switch to CO2-free sources of energy. Electricity is expected to be the number one source of energy. However, some industries may still require liquid fuels and being able to manufacture those using fully renewable resources will be key to achieving emission-reduction targets.

The SOLETAIR team hopes to eventually scale up the technology to allow industry-scale production of clean liquid fuels.

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