Scientists have developed a plant that uses carbon dioxide in the air to produce renewable fuels and chemicals, an advance that could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. The unique Soletair plant, developed by Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, aims to produce 200 litres of fuels and other hydrocarbons for research purposes. The one-of-a-kind demo plant has the entire process chain, from solar power generation to hydrocarbon production, is in the same place. The demo plant comprises four separate units: a solar power plant; 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 carbon dioxide 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,” said Jero Ahola of LUT. “The result will be multi-sectoral industrial integration. Finnish industry’s expertise in this area is being reinforced by collaboration,” said Pekka Simell of VTT.
After the piloting phase, synthesis units will be used in a number of 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.