Scientists were able to turn light and air into liquid fuels

Today we know many ways to get different kinds of fuel, without resorting to the use of hydrocarbons extracted from the earth’s interior. And, despite the fact that developments in the field of providing humanity the sameenergy through solar panels already successfully implemented in the world practice, scientists are still trying to find other effective ways. And recently succeeded the group of experts from Switzerland, which has developed new technology to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuel exclusively from sunlight and air.


Why is it necessary?

First, such developments will help to make some of the most environmentally dangerous types of transport (namely, sea and air) more environmentally friendly. The fact that to date marine and river vessels as well as for different types of aircraft using fuel-based hydrocarbons obtained in the refining of petroleum. Moreover, the process of production of black gold is hardly beneficial to our planet, and the creation of energy efficient fuels is accompanied by formation of toxic products polluting the atmosphere of our planet.

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Solar installation produces synthetic liquid fuel, which in burning produces the same amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) as previously removed from the air for his own production. That is, in fact, we have almost environmentally friendly product.

How it works

The system removes carbon dioxide and water directly from the ambient air and separates them using solar energy. This process leads to obtaining the so-called synthesis gas — a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which then by simple chemical reactions is converted into kerosene, methanol and other hydrocarbons. These fuels can be used in existing transport infrastructure.


This parabolic reflector is mounted on the roof of ETH Zurich collects the light and directs it to the two reactors, located in the middle of installation.

“Our plant proves that a carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuel can be produced from sunlight and air in real field conditions,” explains head of development, Professor Aldo Steinfeld. “Thermochemical process uses the entire solar spectrum and passes at high temperatures, providing faster reactions and higher efficiency.”

Itself “mini-factory” for the synthesis of fuels. It produces about one decilitre of fuel per day (a little less than half Cup)

Steinfeld and his team are already working on large-scale test of its solar reactor on the basis of a large installation to collect sunlight in the suburbs of Madrid in the framework of the project “Sun-to-Liquid”. Following the group’s goal is to scale the technology for industrial implementation and to make it economically competitive.

“The solar plant, covering an area of one square kilometer can produce 20,000 litres of kerosene per day,” says another author, Philip Feller. “Theoretically, a plant the size of Switzerland or the size of a third of California’s Mojave desert could meet the needs of kerosene in the aviation industry. Our goal is the efficient production of fuel using new technologies to significantly reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

The principle of operation of the unit

Process chain the new system includes three processes:

  • The extraction of carbon dioxide and water from air.
  • Solar-thermochemical splitting of carbon dioxide and water.
  • Their subsequent liquefaction of the hydrocarbons.

The adsorption process (i.e. absorption) removes carbon dioxide and water directly from the ambient air. Both of the substrate is then placed in a solar reactor based on ceramic structure of cerium oxide. The temperature inside the solar reactor is 1500 degrees Celsius. These conditions allow during two-step reactions to split water and carbon dioxide with the formation of synthesis gas. As mentioned above, the synthesis gas is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon, which in turn can be used to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuel.