The aviation industry has never received enough attention for its contribution to climate change. It heavily relies on kerosene, often known as jet fuel, a liquid hydrocarbon fuel made from crude oil, and is accountable for 5% of all anthropogenic emissions worldwide.
Until now, there hasn’t been a definite option to powering long-haul commercial airplanes on a worldwide scale.
Here comes ETH Zurich professor Aldo Steinfeld.
A fuel production system created by Steinfeld and his colleagues uses water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight to make aviation fuel. Their plan, which was published on Wednesday in the journal Joule, aims to carbon neutralize the aviation sector.
According to Steinfeld, the paper’s corresponding author, “We are the first to demonstrate the entire thermochemical process chain from water and CO2 to kerosene in a fully-integrated solar tower system.” Prior efforts to create aviation fuels using solar energy have largely taken place in laboratories.
The technology generates synthetic substitutes using solar energy.
The system was created by Steinfeld and his coworkers as a part of the SUN-to-LIQUID project of the European Union. According to the EU’s energy roadmap for 2050, renewable energy sources should account for 75% of total energy consumption.
A significant portion of alternative transportation fuels, including a target share of 40% of low carbon fuels in aviation itself, are required to meet this goal. This is what the four-year solar fuels initiative, which began in January 2016, aims to remedy.
Steinfeld and his colleagues created a technology that harnesses solar power to create synthetic drop-in fuels that can replace fossil-derived fuels like kerosene and diesel. Steinfeld claims that solar-produced kerosene can be stored, distributed, and used in jet engines with the current aviation infrastructure. According to him, it can also be mixed with kerosene made from fossil fuels.
169 sun-tracking reflecting panels are featured in the solar fuel manufacturing facility.
The team started scaling up the design and constructing a solar fuel production facility at the IMDEA Energy Institute in Spain in 2017, one year after the project’s launch. The facility features 169 sun-tracking reflecting panels that focus solar energy into a tower-mounted solar reactor.
Then, in the solar reactor, which has a porous structure constructed of ceria, the concentrated solar radiation drives oxidation-reduction (redox) reaction cycles. The ceria transforms water and CO2 put into the reactor into syngas, which is a specially formulated blend of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The ceria is not consumed but can be used repeatedly.
The syngas is after that directed into a gas-to-liquid converter, where it is ultimately converted into liquid hydrocarbon fuels like kerosene and diesel.
enhancing the design to boost effectiveness
According to Steinfeld, “This solar tower fuel factory was run with an industrial implementation configuration, setting a technological milestone towards the generation of sustainable aviation fuels.”
The solar reactor’s energy efficiency, or the percentage of solar energy input that is translated into the energy content of the syngas produced, was roughly 4% during the nine-day plant run described in the published study.
Steinfeld stated that his team is putting a lot of effort into refining the design to raise the efficiency to figures over 15%. Additionally, they are investigating how to enhance the ceria structure’s capacity to absorb solar radiation and creating strategies for recovering heat lost during redox cycles.
The development of solar technologies for making carbon-free aviation fuels has emerged as a major energy problem, although their readiness level has mostly been restricted to lab-scale research. Here, we report on the experimental demonstration of a completely integrated thermochemical production chain employing concentrated solar energy in a solar tower format, starting with water and carbon dioxide and ending with kerosene. Using a ceria-based thermochemical redox cycle, H2O and CO2 were cosplit to create a customized mixture of H2 and CO (syngas) with full selectivity, which was then converted into kerosene. The 50-kW solar reactor was made out of a cavity-receiver with a reticulated porous structure that was subjected to 2,500 suns’ worth of solar flux on a daily basis. Without using heat recovery, a 4.1 percent efficiency in the conversion of solar energy to synthetic gas was attained. In order to produce sustainable aviation fuels, this solar tower fuel plant was operated with a setup appropriate for industrial deployment.