A European Union (EU)-backed project, which aims to produce jet fuel from concentrated sunlight, water and CO2, has synthesized its first “solar kerosene” under real field conditions, validating its technology and paving the way for higher-scale production.

SUN-to-LIQUID is a four-year project, funded by the EU and Switzerland that started in January 2016 and will end in December 2019.

The project brings together several research and thermochemical-fuel specialists, namely Spanish solar-thermal leader Abengoa Energía, collaborative R&D management-services provider ARTTIC, aerospace research institution Bauhaus Luftfahrt, German aerospace research center DLR, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH Zurich), Dutch gas-processing specialist HyGear Technology & Services, and Spanish research body IMDEA Energy Foundation.

On June 13, the partners announced a breakthrough, after producing their first solar kerosene outside of lab conditions.

“The SUN-to-LIQUID core solar technology and the integrated chemical plant were experimentally validated under real field conditions relevant to industrial implementation,” ETH Zurich head of solar thermochemical reactor development Aldo Steinfeld said.

An earlier EU project, named SOLAR-JET, had already produced solar jet fuel in a laboratory environment. The SUN-to-LIQUID project scaled up that technology for “on-sun testing” using a solar-concentrating plant at the IMDEA Energy Institute in Móstoles, Spain.

“A sun-tracking field of heliostats concentrates sunlight by a factor of 2,500—three times higher than current solar-tower plants used for electricity generation,” IMDEA Energy executive Manuel Romero said.

This intense solar flux allowed ETH Zurich’s solar reactor, located at the top of the tower, to reach reaction temperatures of more than 1,500°C. The solar reactor then synthesizes a hydrogen and carbon-monoxide gas from water and CO2.

“An on-site gas-to-liquid plant that was developed by the project partner HyGear processes this gas to kerosene,” the partners said.

Bauhaus Luftfahrt project coordinator Andreas Sizmann said the technological demonstration could have important implications for long-haul aviation, which is strongly dependent on drop-in hydrocarbon fuels.

“Compared to conventional fossil-derived jet fuel, the net CO2 emissions to the atmosphere can be reduced by more than 90%. Furthermore, since the solar energy-driven process relies on abundant feedstock and does not compete with food production, it can thus meet the future fuel demand at the global scale without the need to replace the existing worldwide infrastructure for fuel distribution, storage and utilization,” the partners said.

The project is coordinated by Bauhaus Luftfahrt, which is in turn funded by Airbus Group, Industrieanlagen-Betriebsgesellschaft (IABG), Liebherr-Aerospace, MTU Aero Engines and the Bavarian government.

Victoria Moores victoria.moores@informa.com