The Swiss clean energy startup Synhelion has developed a key technology for manufacturing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from renewable energy sources. On Thursday, the company announced it has now produced solar syngas on an industrial scale for the first time and plans to make carbon-neutral jet fuels in 2023.
Power-to-Liquid fuels are one of the most promising and exciting pathways for decarbonizing aviation. But they require tremendous amounts of energy, and the ‘power’ in the equation needs to be renewable. There is one energy source that, for the nearest few billions of years at least, has plenty to provide – the sun. One of the companies hoping to ride the solar waves on the path to sustainable transportation is Synhelion.
Synhelion first successfully produced solar syngas in a Zurich laboratory in 2010. Now, twelve years later, the company has reached a significant milestone in scaling the technology. High-temperature solar heat is used to produce syngas, which can then be used in standard industrial processes to synthesize liquid fuels, such as kerosene, compatible with today’s conventional jet engines. This creates a circular CO2 loop, as the fuel burns only the carbon that was used in its production.
Philipp Good, Chief Technology Officer of Synhelion, commented on the company’s latest achievement,
“By successfully producing solar syngas, we have made the dream of turning sunlight into fuel ready for industrial use. The last major technical milestone in scaling our technology has been achieved. Now the way is paved for the industrial production of carbon-neutral jet fuels, which we plan to start next year in Jülich.”
Synhelion is now building the world’s first industrial-scale solar fuel plant, also in German Jülich. The plant is part of the SolarFuels project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK). Lufthansa Group carrier SWISS has already signed up as the first airline to use the solar kerosene.
Syngas is a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Synhelion’s syngas is produced in a proprietary reforming reactor supplied by Wood, a leading energy and environmental technology provider. A mirror field concentrates solar radiation onto the solar receiver developed by Synhelion in a multifocus solar tower that belongs to the German Aerospace Center (DLR). According to Synhelion, the plant could produce about 150,000 liters of liquid solar fuel per year.
While Synhelion is planning the first industrial aviation fuel production facility for Germany for next year, commercial production is set to commence in Spain in 2025.