Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is considered the best solution that’s currently available by many players in the industry. But it’s still not easily produced on a large scale, so innovative and efficient ways of obtaining clean fuels can become a real game-changer. It looks like that’s the case for solar fuel, or sun-to-liquid fuel, and one particular airline is gearing up to become the pioneer user of this promising alternative.
Renewable energy sources such as solar power and wind power have been on the rise over the past years, and today’s advanced technology can expand their potential even more. Solar heat can be used to convert CO2 into synthetic fuel for aircraft, and a Swiss company called Synhelion had developed the technology for taking this process to the next level.
Placed on top of state-of-the-art solar towers, this system delivers solar heat at very high temperatures, turns it into syngas (a mix of hydrogen and carbon) with the help of a thermochemical reactor, and then converts the gas into fuel through standard gas-to-fuel technology. This solution’s main innovation is that it converts sunlight into the highest “process heat” on the market, more than 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,700 Fahrenheit). Also, this unique solution provides thermal energy storage for 24/7 operations.
Synhelion will build the first facility for solar fuel production in the world this year, in Julich, Germany. Also called solar kerosene, this innovative fuel will start to be used as soon as 2023, thanks to a recent partnership between the Swiss fuel company, Lufthansa Group, and the SWISS airline. SWISS will therefore become the first airline in the world to use solar fuel. The two aviation companies will also support Synhelion in expanding its production facilities to Spain as well.
Solar kerosene is described as an alternative to fossil fuel that’s both efficient and economically viable while also releasing only as much CO2 as it went into its production process. For SWISS and Lufthansa, the use of solar fuel is an important step on their path to carbon-neutral operations, and for aviation itself, it could become a major breakthrough.