The universities of Stuttgart and Bayreuth have jointly taken up the challenge to develop a synthetic fuel for aviation and sea freight made from entirely renewable materials. The “PlasmaFuel” team want to take carbon dioxide (CO2), extracted from industrial waste gases and the atmosphere, and convert it into fuel in a two stage process using the surplus electricity from wind and solar.
First the CO2 is split into carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen (O2) in a plasma reactor. In a second step, by using a Fischer-Tropsch reactor, hydrocarbons such as diesel and kerosene are synthesised from CO and hydrogen (produced by electrolysis, powered by renewable energy). The fuel is ready to use in the engines of aircraft and ships.
The idea for PlasmaFuel came from MCT Transformatoren GmbH, which specialises in plasma processes for air purification in buildings. The Institute for Photovoltaics (ipv) at the University of Stuttgart is developing the process into a so-called “Dielectric Barrier Discharge (DBD) plasma reactor”. Meanwhile, the Chair of Chemical Process Engineering (CVT) at the University of Bayreuth is focusing on optimising the synthesis of the hydrocarbon chains.
The clear advantages of the new fuel are that it extracts CO2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, uses low-cost raw materials and is easily scalable to industrial plants. The scientists envisage that PlasmaFuel will be produced when there is surplus energy from wind and solar. In this way, PlasmaFuel factories could potentially be used to stabilise Germany’s power grid. Overspeed GmbH is developing the sophisticated control mechanism to coordinate the plants and plasma processes in real time.
The project has been partly funded with around EUR 1.2 million from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy within the initiative "Energy Transition in Transport".