Solar Power Turns Water and Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel

The pilot project in Finland will create liquid or gas fuel using only renewable energy sources.

Finish researchers are building a demonstration power plant that would use solar-generated electricity, water and carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere to create gas and liquid fuels.

The Lappeenranta University of Technology and VTT Technical Research Centre are working together on the SOLETAIR project, which is being built on the university campus and is scheduled for completion in 2017. Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology also is a player in the project.

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The project involves several different innovations. VTT will design equipment that will capture CO2 from the air and store it, while Lappeenranta researchers will build a device to produce hydrogen from water via electrolysis. Karlsruhe has developed a a microstructured, chemical reactor to convert the hydrogen produced from solar power together with carbon dioxide into liquid fuels, according to a press release. The reactor will be built by INERATEC, a spinoff company created by Karlsruhe.

The idea of the project is to show how solar power could be utilized to not just to generate electricity, but to create renewable fuels as well. Methane produced by SOLETAIR could be used in power plants or to run vehicles, and the hydrogen could also be used in vehicles "This research is the first of its kind in Finland in this type of combination of processes," Lappeenranta Professor Jero Ahola said in a press release in June.

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The two main players have invested about $1.1 million in the pilot plant. TEKES, a government innovation fund, the Finnish Transport Safety Agency, and a group of companies that includes ABB, Gasum, GreenEnergy Finland, Hydrocell, Ineratec GmbH, and Proventia Emission Control Oy also will be supporting the research.

In a speech on energy that President-elect Trump gave in May, he said that he would promote more extraction of fossil fuels and said that renewable energy shouldn't be promoted at the expense of "other forms of energy that right now are working much better."

Photo: Finnish and German researchers are working on a revolutionary plant that would use solar energy to create renewable fuels from water and carbon dioxide. Credit: Lappeenranta University of Technology WATCH: Which Countries Run On 100% Renewable Energy?