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Drop-in fuels from sunlight and air
Nature  (IF49.962),  Pub Date : 2021-11-03, DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04174-y
Remo Schäppi, David Rutz, Fabian Dähler, Alexander Muroyama, Philipp Haueter, Johan Lilliestam, Anthony Patt, Philipp Furler, Aldo Steinfeld

Aviation and shipping currently contribute approximately 8% of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions, with growth in tourism and global trade projected to increase this contribution further1,2,3. Carbon-neutral transportation is feasible with electric motors powered by rechargeable batteries, but is challenging, if not impossible, for long-haul commercial travel, particularly air travel4. A promising solution are drop-in fuels (synthetic alternatives for petroleum-derived liquid hydrocarbon fuels such as kerosene, gasoline or diesel) made from H2O and CO2 by solar-driven processes5,6,7. Among the many possible approaches, the thermochemical path using concentrated solar radiation as the source of high-temperature process heat offers potentially high production rates and efficiencies8, and can deliver truly carbon-neutral fuels if the required CO2 is obtained directly from atmospheric air9. If H2O is also extracted from air10, feedstock sourcing and fuel production can be colocated in desert regions with high solar irradiation and limited access to water resources. While individual steps of such a scheme have been implemented, here we demonstrate the operation of the entire thermochemical solar fuel production chain, from H2O and CO2 captured directly from ambient air to the synthesis of drop-in transportation fuels (for example, methanol and kerosene), with a modular 5 kWthermal pilot-scale solar system operated under field conditions. We further identify the research and development efforts and discuss the economic viability and policies required to bring these solar fuels to market.