World’s first power-to-liquids production plant opened in Dresden | RenewEconomy

World’s first power-to-liquids production plant opened in Dresden

A Power-to-Liquids demonstration rig which is the first of its kind in the world was officially inaugurated on 14 November by Dresden-based sunfire GmbH.


Energy Post

A Power-to-Liquids (PtL) demonstration rig which is the first of its kind in the world was officially inaugurated on 14 November by Dresden-based sunfire GmbH. The ceremony was attended by German Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka, Board Member Pieter Koolen of venture capitalist Bilfinger (in which Total and EDF participate) as well as a number of other high-ranking representatives from the worlds of politics, industry and research.

The new rig uses sunfire’s PtL technology to transform water and CO2 to high-purity synthetic fuels (petrol, diesel, kerosene) with the aid of renewable electricity. So-called PtL fuels – also known as “e-fuels” – can be used in pure form or as an admixture in combination with conventional fuels, and are recognized as an environmentally friendly, resource-saving alternative which contributes to the fulfilment of greenhouse gas quotas.

sunfire-power-to-liquids-demonstration-plant-250x166High-temperature steam electrolysis

The PtL technology is built around the solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOECs) developed by the cleantech firm as part of the eponymous BMBF research project SUNFIRE. Step 1 of the PtL process sees the SOECs used to convert electrical energy to chemical energy. Hydrogen is generated using steam rather than liquid water.

Step 2 – the reverse water-gas shift reaction – is again innovative, and involves the use of the hydrogen (H2) yielded by the steam electrolysis step to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon monoxide (CO) for the third and final step: Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis. This step sees the carbon monoxide and additional hydrogen (in the form of renewable synthesis gas) converted to petrol, diesel, kerosene and other base products for the chemicals industry (e.g. waxes). The feeding of the heat released during synthesis back into the process ensures a high degree of system efficiency (70 per cent).

Proof of technical feasibility at industrial scale

The cost of building the PtL demonstration rig was within the seven-digit range, with development costs also incurred at the various consortium members. Half of the overall sum invested corresponds with the public funding received from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The rig’s capacity for CO2recycling stands at 3.2 tonnes per day, and once brought into commission it will produce up to a barrel of fuel per day. Commercialization is dependent on further technological development and regulatory factors and scheduled for 2016.

“The sunfire process reduces CO2 emissions and reduces our dependency on oil”, said Federal Minister Johanna Wanka at the inauguration. “It therefore represents an opportunity to protect our climate, save resources and at the same time promote a new technology which promises to deliver economic growth. Over and above that, one huge benefit of PtL fuels is that existing infrastructure such as filling stations, pipelines and motors can continue to be used without modification. This paves the way for sustainable mobility based on renewable energies.”


“This rig enables us to prove technical feasibility on an industrial scale”, commented sunfire CTO Christian von Olshausen. “It is now a matter of regulatory factors falling into place in a way which gives investors a sufficient level of planning reliability. Once that has occurred it will be possible to commence the step-by-step substitution of fossil fuels. If we want to achieve fuel autonomy in the long term, we need to get started today.”

Dr. Karl Ludwig Kley, Managing Director of Bilfinger Venture Capital said: “In the case of sunfire – a start-up in an unconventional industrial sector – it is interesting to note that the technology moves in tandem with the market. As a strategic investor, Bilfinger is able to offer not only technical know-how which feeds into the planning and construction of industrial facilities, but also access to potential customers. In particular, a cooperation has been set up between Bilfinger EMS and sunfire. Both partners have already begun to jointly bring PtL technology to the market.”


Source: Energy Post. Reproduced with permission.

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  1. suthnsun 6 years ago

    As I understand it this process needs a point source of CO2. Once we stop burning fossil fuels there won’t be many of these left, so I don’t see a big future for this. Of course it may have bigger spin offs down the track..

    • Alen T 6 years ago

      Biomass power generation springs to mind as a sustainable and long term supplier of CO2 for this technology.

      • Miles Harding 6 years ago

        Further to my post below, this should be seen as a (not very efficient) means of converting electricity into fuel for work. A far simpler and more efficient solution is to bypass this process altogether and use the source energy (electricity) directly.

        • Alen T 6 years ago

          Key take away message here seems to me that CO2 has other uses than just being emitted to the atmosphere. They have an ETS active, thus essentially creating CO2 into a commodity that is traded in the market, this technology then slowly shifts the trend from CO2 being a cost to the firm to potentially being another revenue raiser in the production process, i.e. capturing the CO2 before it goes to the atmosphere and selling it to this facility, or the one recently opened in the US that uses the CO2 in goods such as soda, detergents, etc..can add to company profits.

    • cleanthinking 6 years ago

      There will be enough CO2 left according to cement production or chemicals industry. No worries.

    • sean 6 years ago

      there is 400+PPM in the atmosphere and 140x that (volume basis) in the ocean. you WONT run out.

      • suthnsun 6 years ago

        Running out is not the issue, I imagine a very high concentration point source will be required to make this process remotely economic. Miles Harding talks about some reasons below.

        • sean 6 years ago

          extraction from the ocean is economic down to $55/bbl (with $0 electricity)

  2. Miles Harding 6 years ago

    Good, except for the ‘no free lunch’ principle.

    This may have some application in specialised transport or chemical manufacture that needs hydrocarbons?

    The problem is that process isn’t going to be particularly efficient (think Fischer-Tropsch) and then the conversion of those hydrocarbons back into useful work is also limited by carnot, not likely achieving better than 40% efficiency at the consumption end. Contrast this to an all electric (battery) solution that can be 70% efficient end to end, somewhere more than twice as much source energy is required for the same productive work output.

    This is an almost exact analog of the supposed H2 economy, except that there is existing infrastructure, but it is otherwise doomed for the same reason.

    • sean 6 years ago

      who cares?

      You have a product that you can acquire at very little (or no) cost, that will disappear if not used instantly (Excess Electricity)
      and convert it to a product that sells for $1.30 a litre.

      you make money on the process and you replace something that was going to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for something that is going to be carbon neutral.

      There is still going to be a huge demand for oil. Planes aren’t going out of fashion any time soon.

      If someone else can make more money converting electricity into charged batteries and make a bigger profit, good for them.

      The bank doesn’t care if a process is energy efficient, only if it is economically efficient (i.e. turns a profit so they can get their money back)

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