Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT) has announced the first 200 liters of synthetic fuel have now been produced from solar energy and the air’s carbon dioxide by KIT’s SOLETAIR project, a type of Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.

The compact pilot plant used in the SOLETAIR project is designed for decentralized production, fits into a shipping container, and can be extended modularly.  Image Credit: VTT. Click image for the largest view.

The mobile chemical pilot plant can be used decentrally producing gasoline, diesel, and kerosene from regenerative hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The team believes production of fuels from regenerative electric power is a component of the energy turnaround.

INERATEC, a spinoff of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), cooperated with Finnish partners. The processor is so compact that it fits into a shipping container and can be extended modularly.

Professor Thomas Hirth, KIT Vice President for Innovation and International Affairs said, “Success of the energy transition needs innovations generated by research extending from fundamentals to applications. The success of SOLETAIR reflects the importance of international research networks that tackle global challenges and develop applicable solutions.”

The pilot plant has a production capacity of up to 80 liters of gasoline per day. In the first campaign now completed, about 200 liters of fuel were produced in several phases to study the optimum synthesis process, possibilities of using the heat produced, and product properties.

In June 2017, the plant network was opened officially by Jamie Hyneman. Hyneman is honorary doctor of the project partner LUT and hosts the “MythBusters” science television series. The special effects expert is entrepreneur, innovator, and patent holder himself. His program has contributed significantly to making science and engineering more popular. The US American develops safety technologies for industry and the public space. When opening the SOLETAIR pilot plant, he impressively demonstrated the improved combustion and ignition properties of the synthetic fuel produced compared to conventional fuel.

Under the national research alliances of “Energy Lab 2.0” and “Neo-Carbon Energy,” KIT, INERATEC, and VTT intensifed their cooperation for the investigation and development of innovative energy systems based on renewable energy sources, novel storage technologies, and the conversion of renewable power into chemical energy carriers. Together with other project partners, KIT and INERATEC also study decentralized production of high-quality synthetic fuel from air and renewable power under the “Power-to-X” Kopernikus project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

VTT scientist and SOLETAIR project head Dr. Pekka Simell said, “The energiewende will only be a success, if we pool our know-how and jointly strengthen the competencies of European industry in the energy sector.”

“In this respect, innovative startups, such as INERATEC, play a key role,” Professor Roland Dittmeyer, Head of KIT’s Institute of Micro Process Engineering, added.

It looks like a great technological step forward. And it is, but will it scale economically? The Europeans indulge governments with huge fuel taxes that distort the market. Those 80 liters of fuel per day work out to just a bit more than 21 gallons. At this writing gasoline is $1.62 per gallon wholesale. About $34.00US.


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