Sunfire – Creating Gasoline From Sunlight Without PGMs

First there was microwaveable gold and now gasoline can be created from sunlight.

Sunfire GmbH of Dresden, Germany promises that gasoline, diesel and kerosene can be produced in a sustainable way, thanks to the development of new technology.

The company has created a novel type of fuel cell that converts CO2 and water into either of these fuels, circumventing the need to drill for the precious resources underground.

We reported about Bauhaus Luftfahrt earlier who are using a cerium reactor to convert sunlight into kerosene. Sunfire’s technology is different in its focus, however, in that their process can equally be used to reconvert fuel into thermal energy or electricity.

Nils Aldag, a founder of Sunfire.

“The technology we use is called ‘High Temperature Solid Oxide Fuel Cell’, or short SOC” explained Nils Aldag, one of Sunfire’s founders. “The “Power to Liquid” process mimics the ways of nature where CO2, water and sunlight are converted into bio mass (i.e. a plant). Photosynthesis over a very long period of time then creates fossil oil or gas when oxygen is separated and a carbon-hydrogen gas remains. Sunfire’s process directly converts the starting products into fuel – gasoline or diesel.”

Sunfire is the first to have built an operational pilot plant. The company is, however, determined to focus on its core components only. They do not want to be an energy producer or distributor. Partners like Audi (automotive), Boeing (aviation), Total (energy production) or Weiland (residential power and heating) are each adopting the concept to their respective markets and products.

Customers also include large fuel consumers like a chain of supermarkets who are planning to produce fuel for their own fleet of delivery vehicles. The fuel generated can be used in conventional vehicles without converting the engines.

Founded in 2010, based on decades of preceding endeavors by some of its founders, Sunfire merged with staxera, a producer of fuel cells, just one year later. The company has since received significant funding and conducts business in nearly 20 countries around the world.

Surprisingly, the SOC uses little to no precious metals. “It is platinum free, the components are glass, steel and ceramics” said Aldag.

At first glance, this sounds like bad news, but is it? If the Sunfire technology prolongs the life cycle of the internal combustion engine (ICE) and if the technology leads to better access to hydrogen as fuel in fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) then the PGM market will benefit indirectly in the long term.

By Bodo Albrecht