From research lab towards commercialization: Renewable fuels closer to reality


Synhelion, the ETH Zurich Spinoff, has spent ten years researching the production of methanol by combining air and sunlight. The startup has partnered with the energy company Eni to further develop the solution and make it economically viable for the global fuel market.


Synhelion aims to replace fossil fuels with its CO2-neutral liquid fuels, which are 100% compatible with the current global fuel infrastructure. The startup is developing CO2 neutral Methanol by combining carbon dioxide (CO2), water and methane in a process that requires high temperatures which are obtained by harnessing solar energy. This solution promises several advantages for the global energy market. Application areas for the solutions are mobility for combustion in conventional engines and turbines. This implies that the solution once successful would facilitate CO2 free flying. The startup team, led by Gianluca Ambrosetti, CEO of Synhelion with the advisory support from Aldo Steinfeld, Head of the Chair for Renewable Energy Sources at ETH Zurich, set up a pilot plant on the rooftop of the ETH to produce the solar fuel. As reported by SRF, a larger testing plant is based at Móstoles, near Madrid where the EU "Sun to Liquid" project has been testing the process outside the laboratory for three years using the solar reactor developed by ETH Zurich. Based on the current results, the team is convinced that the technology works on a large scale. To further develop the solution and transform it into a viable commercial technology, Synhelion has joined forces with Eni S.p.A, the leading energy company committed to the development of solutions that address the global energy needs of the future. Eni’s R&D focuses on value creation through the study and implementation of new technologies. This is reflected through the company’s 7,300 patents and over 350 projects that are already launched. The partnership, which was signed in 2017, sets the stage for the development of additional pilot plants at different scales until the technology is industrialized. Hence, the plant in Móstoles will be expanded 100-fold and the efficiency of the process increased throughout the process. For Eni, the solution enables the company to simultaneously work towards the twin targets of greenhouse gases reduction and the use of carbon dioxide as raw material. The process transforms CO2 from industrial waste material to a key element in the fuel production cycle. Preliminary data show that the project about to be developed will cut over 50% of emissions released in conventional methanol production.(Press release/RAN)