An EU-funded SOLAR-JET project at notable research organizations from academia through to industry (ETH Zürich, Bauhaus Luftfahrt, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), ARTTIC and Shell Global Solutions) has successfully demonstrated the entire production chain for renewable aviation kerosene obtained directly from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

The new EU process has also the potential to produce any other type of fuel for transport applications, such as diesel, gasoline or pure hydrogen in a more sustainable way.

By exploring a thermochemical pathway driven by concentrated solar energy a new solar reactor technology has been pioneered to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels suitable for more sustainable transportation.

Solar Jet Process Diagram Artists Rendering. Click image for the largest view.

Solar Jet Process Diagram Artists Rendering. Click image for the largest view.

Dr. Andreas Sizmann, the project coordinator at Bauhaus Luftfahrt said, “Increasing environmental and supply security issues are leading the aviation sector to seek alternative fuels which can be used interchangeably with today’s jet fuel, so-called drop-in solutions. With this first-ever proof-of-concept for ‘solar’ kerosene, the SOLAR-JET project has made a major step towards truly sustainable fuels with virtually unlimited feedstocks in the future.”

The SOLAR-JET (Solar chemical reactor demonstration and Optimization for Long-term Availability of Renewable JET fuel) project demonstrated an innovative process technology using concentrated sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water to a so-called synthesis gas (syngas). The syngas is made by means of a redox cycle with metal-oxide based materials at high temperatures. The syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, is finally converted into kerosene by using commercial Fischer-Tropsch technology.

Professor Aldo Steinfeld, leading the fundamental research and development of the solar reactor at ETH Zürich said, “The solar reactor technology features enhanced radiative heat transfer and fast reaction kinetics, which are crucial for maximizing the solar-to-fuel energy conversion efficiency.”

The solar-driven redox cycle for syngas production is still at an early stage of development while the processing of syngas to kerosene is already being deployed by companies, including Shell, on a global scale. This combined approach has the potential to provide a secure, sustainable and scalable supply of renewable aviation fuel and more generally, for transport applications. Moreover, Fischer-Tropsch derived kerosene is already approved for commercial aviation.

Professor Hans Geerlings at Shell said, “This is potentially a very interesting novel pathway to liquid hydrocarbon fuels using focused solar power. Although the individual steps of the process have previously been demonstrated at various scales, no attempt had been made previously to integrate the end-to-end system. We look forward to working with the project partners to drive forward research and development in the next phase of the project on such an ambitious emerging technology.”

The SOLAR-JET project was launched in June 2011 and is receiving financial support from the European Union within the 7th Framework Program for a duration of four years.

In a first step, the technical feasibility of producing solar kerosene was proven. In the next phase of the project, the partners will optimize the solar reactor and assess the techno-economic potential of industrial scale implementation. The outcomes of SOLAR-JET will put Europe out in the forefront of research, innovation and production of sustainable fuels directly from concentrated solar energy.

The Solar Jet looks good because of the solar power source for the heat. It does beg the question of where to get the CO2 cheaply, something the US navy has worked out from seawater. Perhaps between the two projects something for consumers will make it to market.


2 Comments so far

  1. Matt Musson on May 6, 2014 8:14 AM

    Using a small Molten Salt Liquid Thorium reactor as power would might make more sense. Set up the reactor oceanside and let it produce fresh water and fuel in the same location.

  2. Benjamin Cole on May 7, 2014 10:14 PM


    Seems to me, and aggressive poor nation might try your scheme. Ask VC types to build cheap nuke plant (not unsafe) and make fuels with it. Sell the fuels. Or go the solar route, if such a plant can be made robust and low maintenance. That is to say, thereafter said poor nation has steady source of income.

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