According to the cleantech company Synhelion, the world’s first industrial solar fuel plant is officially open in Germany. The industrial plant aims to produce synthetic fuels from the Sun’s heat.

Reducing Fossil Fuels

By generating fuel from solar heat, the company wants to remove the dependence on fossil fuels, particularly in aviation. According to the company, they want to demonstrate the technology’s capabilities and prove that the technology needed for solar fuel is ready for large scale production.

Artist illustration of the DAWN solar fuel plant; Photo: Synhelion

The plant is called DAWN and includes a 65-foot high solar tower that is surrounded by a mirror field to capture solar rays. A black surface inside the tower absorbs heat that is then sent to a thermochemical reactor. Once the heat is sent to the reactor, it’s then used to make synthetic liquid fuels or syngas. A cost-effective thermal energy storage system also helps store energy or generate solar fuel when the sun is not out.

The company said in a press release that “DAWN demonstrates the entire technology chain from concentrated sunlight to synthetic liquid fuel on an industrial scale for the first time.” With production starting in the latter half of 2024, the company believes DAWN “can produce several thousand liters of fuel per year.”

There is an increased demand for the Sun’s energy. For example, the world’s largest solar power plant recently switched on in the desert of northwest Xinjiang

Solar Fuel

The plant makes an intermediate product called syncrude that is particularly suitable for transport. When it is transported to an oil refinery, it’s turned into certified fuels. According to the company’s press release, “Synhelion will produce not only solar kerosene for aviation, but also solar gasoline and solar diesel for road transportation and shipping applications.” Additionally, solar fuels are compatible with existing fuel infrastructure, which is a key benefit. This includes storage, transportation, internal combustion engines and aircraft engines.

The company also plans to start constructing its first commercial plant in Spain next year. According to the company’s press release, “The plant will produce a total of around 1’000 tons of fuel per year. Planned future plants will significantly exceed the size of the first two plants and thus offer a much higher production capacity.”

DAWN was inaugurated on June 20 in honor of the summer solstice. The plant is located in Jülich, about 31 miles west of Cologne, Germany.

“The inauguration of DAWN marks the beginning of the era of solar fuels – a turning point for sustainable transportation,” said Dr Philipp Furler, CEO and Co-Founder of Synhelion. “Our founding dream of producing renewable fuels from solar energy is becoming a reality.”