Brief

Engineers have demonstrated a pilot system that produces fuels from sunlight and air. The device captures carbon dioxide and water from the air and uses solar energy to convert it into syngas, which is then converted into carbon-neutral liquid fuels. Read more.

 

Insight

Engineers at ETH Zurich have demonstrated a pilot system that can produce fuels from sunlight and air. The device captures carbon dioxide and water from the atmosphere and uses solar energy to convert it into syngas, which is then converted into liquid fuel that’s essentially carbon neutral.

With a clearer understanding of the damage caused by human carbon dioxide emissions, there’s plenty of work being done to transition towards electric vehicles, hydrogen power, fuel cells and other sustainable forms of energy. However, these advances will require big changes to the existing infrastructure, which can slow down their implementation.

In the meantime, synthetic fuels could be a decent solution. These are made to mimic current liquid hydrocarbon fuels but are produced from renewable sources, such as biomass, waste products or carbon already in the atmosphere. And because they replace or complement fossil fuels, they can be “dropped into” existing engines and infrastructure.

In the new study, researchers at ETH Zurich developed and tested a new system that can produce these drop-in fuels using just sunlight and air. The resulting fuel is carbon neutral, releasing only as much carbon dioxide when burned as its production removed from the air originally.

The system is comprised of three units – a direct air capture unit, a solar redox unit, and a gas-to-liquid unit. The first section sucks in ambient air, and uses adsorption to pull carbon dioxide and water out of it. These are then piped into the second unit, where solar energy is harnessed to trigger chemical reactions.

 

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