Finnish demo plant produces renewable fuel from carbon dioxide captured from the air

June 12, 2017, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
Cyril Bajamundi, Research scientist from VTT . Credit: LUT

The unique Soletair demo plant developed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) uses carbon dioxide to produce renewable fuels and chemicals. The pilot plant is coupled to LUT's solar power plant in Lappeenranta.

The aim of the project is to demonstrate the technical performance of the overall process and produce 200 litres of fuels and other hydrocarbons for research purposes. This concerns a one-of-a-kind demo plant in which the entire process chain, from to hydrocarbon production, is in the same place.

The demo plant comprises four separate units: a ; equipment for separating carbon dioxide and water from the air; a section that uses electrolysis to produce hydrogen; and synthesis equipment for producing a crude-oil substitute from and hydrogen.

Pilot-scale plant units have been designed for distributed, small-scale production. Production capacity can be increased by adding more units.

"The concept we are exploring is an example of how the chemical industry could be electrified in the future. The burning of fossil fuels must end by 2050, but people will continue to need some hydrocarbons," says Professor Jero Ahola of LUT.

"The result will be multi-sectoral industrial integration. Finnish industry's expertise in this area is being reinforced by collaboration," comments Principal Scientist Pekka Simell of VTT, who is in charge of coordinating the project.

VTT and LUT will test the Soletair demo plant during the summer. After the piloting phase, synthesis units will be used in a number of EU projects over the coming years. It will provide a platform for conducting research with international companies.

Information gathered during the project will be useful for the commercialisation of the technologies. New business opportunities will arise for companies such as those benefiting from the circular economy or surplus electricity, or for chemical companies.

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1 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2017
Coal would be a lot cheaper?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2017
Great! They've shown the engineers how to implement it. These are exactly the inputs the engineers need.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2017
I'm all for the idea, I'd like to see the molar and energy efficiencies of each of the steps though.
However, one step at a time is better than coal.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 13, 2017
The clever bit is extracting water out of the air as well, because that way you get very pure H20 without the need to distill drinking water for the electrolyzers.

The problem with mass-production of hydrogen is that you can't just chuck a bunch of seawater in the cells and expect it to work - it'll foul the whole thing and produce unwanted chemical reactions that generate things like chlorine gas. It's a costly operation to purify water, but if you're distilling air for the CO2 component, it has to be dried lest the equipment clog up with ice, and so for a side product you get distilled water.

A cubic meter of air has about a gram of water in it, which contains 110 mg hydrogen, which is good for 13 kJ of energy. To store the equivalent energy of a liter of gasoline, one needs to extract the water out of approximately 2,500 m^2 of air.

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