The de-carbonization of the energy- and transportation system needs besides strengthening of the electrification in all sectors also CO2-neutral fuels. The potential to produce them solely from biomass is limited. Therefore alternative routes need to be developed to use renewable energy to convert abundant recourses like water and CO2 and nitrogen from air into fuels. It requires immense research effort to identify which fuels can be produced efficiently from the basic recourses, by which processes in the necessary volumes. It is crucial that the processes are scalable and the renewable fuels will be cost competitive.
The vision of the DLR Institute of Future Fuels is to develop technological solutions for harvesting large amounts of solar energy in the sunbelt regions of the earth and use it together with the renewable resources water and air to produce fuels cost efficiently. From this vision the mission of the Institute evolves to develop materials, components and processes for solar fuel production, simulate them, scale them up, and analyze them techno- socio-economically.
Latest by 2030 Germany will need to import large quantities of renewable energy resources to replace fossil based fuels by CO2 lean future fuels. Especially liquid fuels produced with concentrated solar radiation cane pave the way. They are able to be used immediately as drop-in fuels to replace their fossil analogs. Therefore an immediate reduction of fossil based CO2 emission can be started without changing the distribution infrastructure. Liquid fuels will be difficult to replace even in the medium to long term for certain applications like long haul air transportation.
Solar-thermochemical processes have less conversion losses than other processes. Therefore they can provide solar fuels very efficiently. The main process for all fuel production will be to generate hydrogen from water. However solar heat can also be used in other established high temperature industrial process to replace fossil fuels. Examples are metal, cement, or fertilizer production. The use in these processes will widen the application and the high added value of the products will accelerate the market introduction. Some of these processes generate inherent side products like CO2 or sulfur which can be recycled in the processes for fuel production.
The Institute of Future Fuels will cover the whole development chain to provide solar fuels. It will be structured into four areas: