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Solar Power and Chemical Energy Systems

Implementing Agreement of the

International Energy Agency

Solar Fuels from

Concentrated Sunlight
2 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 3


4 Executive Summary

6 Intermittent Solar Energy – Need for Storage

6 Why solar fuels?
8 Why solar hydrogen?
9 Solar fuels production

10 In Focus – Solar Concentrating Technologies

10 Solar tower facilities
12 Concentrating solar research facilities

16 Solar Hydrogen – Future Energy Carrier
1 CESA 1 Solar Tower, CIEMAT-
PSA, Almería, Spain (DLR)
16 Solar production of hydrogen
2 CESA 1 Solar Tower, CIEMAT- 18 H2 from H2O by solar thermolysis
PSA, Almería, Spain (DLR/Steur)
7 Blue Sky (PSI)
18 H2 from H2O by solar thermochemical cycles
11 SSPS Solar Tower, CIEMAT-PSA, 21 H2 by decarbonization of fossil fuels
Almería, Spain (DLR)
17 SEDC Solar Energy Development
23 H2 from H2S by solar thermolysis
Center, Rotem, Israel
(BrightSource Energy/Eilon Paz) 24 Solar Hydrogen – At Competitive Costs!
25 Solar Two, Barstow, USA
(Sandia National Laboratories) 26 Boosting Solar Fuels – Need for Worldwide R&D
27 DLR Solar Furnace, Cologne,
Germany (DLR)
31 WIS Solar Tower, Rehovot,
30 Transition to Solar Fuels – Recommended Strategy
Israel (WIS) 30 R&D strategy for solar H2 production
35 Heliostat, CIEMAT-PSA,
Almería, Spain (DLR/Steur)
33 R&D needs for solar H2 production
36 PS10 & PS20, Sanlúcar La
Mayor, Spain (Abengoa Solar) 34 Bright Future for Solar Fuels – Outlook
4 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Executive Summary

Sunlight is by far the most abundant carbon- later stage, the emerging solar fuel technologies
neutral energy resource on earth. However, so- will be based on processes that are completely
lar energy is intermittent and does not neces- independent of any fossil fuel resources.
sarily match the variations in demand. If it is The main vector for this transformation will be
to become a major contributor to our energy the production of hydrogen, a potentially clean
supply, some form of storage is necessary. alternative to fossil fuels, especially for use in
Conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels transport. Today, however, more than 90% of
is an attractive method of solar energy stor- hydrogen is produced by using high tempera-
age. Solar fuels, such as hydrogen, can be used ture processes from fossil resources, mainly
for upgrading fossil fuels, burned to generate natural gas. If hydrogen is generated from solar
heat, further processed into electrical or me- energy, it is a completely clean technology; no
chanical work by turbines and generators or hazardous wastes or climate changing byprod-
internal combustion engines, or used directly ucts are formed and only sunshine and water
to generate electricity in fuel cells and batteries are required as inputs to the process. This is the
to meet energy demands whenever and wher- vision outlined in the European Commission’s
ever required by the customers. The challenge ‘European hydrogen and fuel cell roadmap’,
is to produce large amounts of chemical fuels which runs up to 2050.
directly from sunlight in robust, cost-effective
ways while minimizing the adverse effects on
the environment. Solar fuels production
The success of solar thermal power genera- There are basically three routes, alone or in
tion – known as ‘concentrating solar power’ combination, for producing storable and trans-
(CSP) – is already moving towards sustainable, portable fuels from solar energy. The electro-
large scale fuel production: concentrating so- chemical route uses solar electricity made from
lar radiation with re�lecting mirrors provides photovoltaic or concentrating solar thermal
high temperature process heat for driving ef- systems followed by an electrolytic process;
�icient thermochemical processes. Although the the photochemical/photobiological route makes
technical feasibility of various technologies has direct use of solar photon energy for photo-
been demonstrated, commercialization of these chemical and photobiological processes; the
processes has been hindered by the economics. thermochemical route uses solar heat at high
Nevertheless, solar fuels are among the most temperatures followed by an endothermic ther-
promising technologies to curb the growing mochemical process.
demand for fossil fuels and to mitigate the ef- The thermochemical route offers some intrigu-
fects of climate change. To achieve this it is rec- ing thermodynamic advantages with direct eco-
ommended that commercial implementation nomic implications.
steadily evolves, starting from the current state-
of-the-art fossil fuel production technologies.
To facilitate the introduction of new solar fuels Concentrating solar technologies
production processes, the existing know-how The state-of-the-art CSP technology capable
from both the fuel production industry and the of achieving high process temperatures is the
CSP research institutes should be merged. At a ‘solar tower’ con�iguration, where a �ield of
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 5

heliostats (tracking mirrors) focuses the sun- radiation as the source of high temperature gies must be further developed and proven to
rays onto a solar receiver mounted on top of a process heat. be technically feasible and economical. Second-
centrally located tower. Such solar concentrat- ly, a worldwide consensus on the most prom-
ing systems already operate in large-scale pi- ising future energy carriers – both renewable
lot and commercial plants, such as the 11 MWel Economic solar hydrogen electricity and hydrogen – needs to be reached.
PS10 plant near Seville in Spain, in operation The economical competitiveness of solar fuel The arguments in favor of a future hydrogen
since 2007 to deliver solar generated electric- production is closely related to two factors: the economy are excellent, and the political com-
ity to the grid. They make use of a heat transfer cost of fossil fuels and the necessity to control mitment to move in this direction has been
�luid (typically air, water, synthetic oil, helium, the world climate by drastically reducing CO2 manifested in many initiatives. What is urgently
sodium, or molten salt) that is heated by solar emissions. needed now is a clear decision to start the tran-
energy and then used in traditional steam or gas Both the US Department of Energy and the Eu- sition from fossil to renewable energies and
turbines. The typical land area required for a 50 ropean Commission have a clear vision of the from gasoline to hydrogen.
MWth plant is about 300,000 m2. hydrogen economy, with �irm targets for hydro- We encourage politicians and policy-makers,
Solar thermochemical applications, although gen production costs. The US target for 2017 energy of�icials and regulators, utility compa-
not as far advanced as solar thermal electricity is 3 $/gge (gasoline gallon equivalent; 1 gge is nies, development banks and private investors
generation, employ similar solar concentrat- about 1 kg H2), and the EU target for 2020 is to �irmly support the massive production of so-
ing technologies. However, high-temperature 3.50 €/kg H2. lar fuels – primarily hydrogen – by taking con-
thermochemical processes require higher solar The economics of large scale solar hydrogen crete steps to enable future infrastructure and
concentration than CSP plants, which has an production has been assessed in numerous market development without delay.
impact on heliostat �ield layout and plant op- studies, which indicate that the solar thermo- We have only a short time window of opportu-
eration. chemical production of hydrogen can be com- nity to tackle and solve the critical problems of
For ef�icient development of solar fuels produc- petitive compared with the electrolysis of water greenhouse gas emission and climate change.
tion technologies, in particular solar hydrogen, using solar-generated electricity. It can even Solar fuels are part of the solution – they have
dedicated concentrating research facilities – become competitive with conventional fossil- the capacity to help satisfy the energy needs of
solar furnaces and solar simulators – are em- fuel-based processes at current fuel prices, es- the world without destroying it.
ployed. The largest solar furnaces currently pecially if credits for CO2 mitigation and pollu-
operating in France and Uzbekistan have a ther- tion avoidance are applied.
mal power of 1 MW. Further R&D and large-scale demonstrations
are therefore justi�ied. This would have positive
effects on achievable ef�iciencies and invest-
Solar hydrogen ment cost reduction for materials and compo-
Clean hydrogen production will be based on nents. An important factor will be the massive
water and energy from renewable sources. Re- installation of commercial solar thermal power
placing fossil fuels with renewable energy will plants, in particular power towers, since helio-
shift the balance between electricity and fuels. stats will be one of the most expensive compo-
For many applications, electricity will be used nents of a solar thermal hydrogen production
instead of fuels, but two major applications will plant.
require a massive production of solar hydrogen.
Firstly, renewable energy must be stored for
balanced use, and secondly, mobility will prob- Recommended strategy
ably be based on fuels rather than electricity. A range of research activities are already under
The European Union’s World Energy Technol- way, with the ultimate goal of developing tech-
ogy Outlook scenario predicts a hydrogen de- nically and economically viable technologies for
mand equivalent to about 1 billion tons of oil solar thermochemical processes that can pro-
in 2050. duce solar fuels, particularly hydrogen. Imple-
Solar electricity generated by CSP technology, mentation should start immediately to acceler-
and followed by electrolysis of water, is a viable ate the transition from today’s fossil-fuel-based
technical route for producing hydrogen. It can economy to tomorrow’s solar driven hydrogen
be considered as a benchmark for other routes, economy.
such as solar-driven water-splitting thermo- The EU-FP6 project INNOHYP-CA (2004-2006)
chemical cycles that offer the potential of en- has already developed a roadmap, which shows
ergy ef�icient large-scale production of hydro- the pathway to implementing thermochemical
gen. The projected costs of hydrogen produced processes for massive hydrogen production.
by CSP and electrolysis, assuming solar thermal
electricity costs of 0.08 $/kWhel, range from
0.15-0.20 $/kWh, or 6-8 $/kg H2. The future for solar fuels
There are also a range of thermochemical Solar energy is free, abundant and inexhaust-
routes to solar production of hydrogen. All of ible, but at least two crucial steps are necessary
these involve energy consuming (endothermic) for a successful market introduction of solar fu-
reactions that make use of concentrated solar els. Firstly, solar chemical production technolo-
6 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Intermittent Solar Energy –

Need for Storage

CSP Sunlight is by far the most abundant carbon- usage of solar energy will be constrained until
Concentrated Solar Power plants produce neutral energy resource on earth. More energy reliable and low-cost technologies for storing
electric power by converting the sun’s
from the sun strikes the earth’s surface in one solar energy become readily available. A viable
radiative energy into high-temperature heat
using various mirror configurations.
hour than is consumed annually by all of the fos- solar energy conversion scheme must result in
sil fuels. However, solar energy is intermittent a 10–50 fold decrease in the cost-to-ef�iciency
and does not necessarily match the variable ratio for the production of stored fuels and must
daily and seasonable demands for energy. If so- be stable and robust for a 20–30 year period.
lar energy is to become a major contributor to
our energy supply, some form of energy storage
is necessary for use during times when there is Why solar fuels?
little or no sunlight. The growth in worldwide Conversion of solar energy into chemical fuels
is an attractive method of solar energy storage
(�igure 1). Solar fuels, such as hydrogen, can be
used for upgrading fossil fuels, burned to gen-
How it works – solar energy storage erate heat, further processed into electrical or
mechanical work by turbines and generators or
internal combustion engines, or used directly to
generate electricity in fuel cells and batteries to
meet energy demands whenever and wherever
required by the customers. The challenge is to
produce large amounts of chemical fuels direct-
ly from sunlight in robust, cost-effective ways to
deal with growing energy demands while mini-
mizing the adverse effects on the economy and
Sustainable, large scale fuel production relies
on the success of solar thermal power genera-
tion (→CSP) 1: concentrating the incident solar
radiation (�igure 2) with re�lecting mirrors pro-
vides high temperature process heat for driving
ef�icient thermochemical processes in compact
Source: PSI
centralized plants. Although the technical feasi-

Figure 1: Energy conversion into solar fuels – Concentrated solar radiation is used as the energy source 1 Concentrating Solar Thermal Power – Now!
of high-temperature process heat for driving thermochemical reactions towards the production of Brochure published by Greenpeace, ESTIA, IEA
storable and transportable fuels. SolarPACES, 2005.
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 7
8 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Greenhouse gas emissions result in global
Solar Potential
warming, climate change and connected
extreme weather events. CO 2 is the most Annual Solar Irradiance (kWh/m2/a)
prominent GHG but others like methane
have much higher impact.

Solar thermochemical process

Any endothermic chemical process that
uses concentrated solar energy as the
source of high-temperature process heat.

Solar cavity receiver

A well-insulated enclosure – with a small
opening to let in concentrated solar energy
– approaching a blackbody absorber in its
ability to capture solar energy.

Exergy efficiency
Efficiency for converting solar energy into
<1000 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 (kWh/m2/a)
chemical energy, given by the ratio of
the maximum work that may be extracted
from a solar fuel to the solar energy Source: Krieth & Krieger, Principles of Solar Engineering, Mc Graw Hill, 1978
input for producing such a fuel by a solar
thermochemical process.
Figure 2: Annual solar irradiance on Earth – The square of 1000 x 1000 km 2 plotted in the middle of
the Atlantic Ocean stands for the land area required for supplying the world’s energy needs with
Carnot efficiency
concentrated solar energy.
Maximum efficiency of a cyclic process for
converting heat from a high-temperature
thermal reservoir at T H into work and
rejecting heat to a low-temperature thermal bility of various technologies has been demon-
reservoir at T L, given by η Carnot = 1-T L/T H. strated in the past, commercialization of these Hydrogen Economy – political initiatives

processes had been hindered – predominantly • International Partnership for the Hydrogen
due to economical reasons. Economy (IPHE)
Nevertheless, solar fuels are among the most • Hydrogen Implementing Agreement of the
International Energy Agency (IEA-HIA)
promising technologies to curb the growing
• Hydrogen program of the US DOE
demand for fossil fuels – associated with soar- • European Hydrogen and fuel Cell Platform
ing prices for diminishing fossil fuel resources (HFP)
– and to mitigate the effects of climate change. • European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Joint
Their rapid implementation will create new Technology Initiative (JTI).

markets for developing countries and increase

the energy security, due to greater independ-
ence in fuel production and a larger number of lization, as manifested in a number of political
countries supplying solar fuels. initiatives. One striking vision is outlined in the
It is recommended that commercial implemen- European hydrogen and fuel cell roadmap (�ig-
tation steadily evolves, starting from the current ure 3), which runs up to 2050.2
state-of-the-art fossil fuel production technolo- Although H2 is widely accepted as the energy
gies. To facilitate the introduction of new solar carrier of the future, it must still ful�ill the re-
fuels production processes, the existing know- quirements of a sustainable energy economy,
how from both the fuel production industry and i.e. it must be produced from unlimited energy
the CSP research institutes should be merged. At sources, without →GHG emission, at an afford-
a later stage, the emerging solar fuel technolo- able price.
gies will be based on processes that are com- Today, more than 90% of the H2 is produced
pletely independent of any fossil fuel resources. from fossil resources, mainly natural gas (NG).
Half of the annual production of more than 100
million tons is used for producing fertilizers
Why solar hydrogen? and about 45% for petro-chemical processes.
Many believe that over the next several decades, The latter application alone will drastically rise
there will be a shift away from today’s fossil in the next years because an increasing amount
fuel economy toward a much cleaner hydrogen of H2 is needed for re�ining heavy oils.
future. The enormous problems accompanied
with a fossil fuel economy and the signi�icant 2 European Commission, EUR 20719 EN – Hydro-
environmental advantages of the Hydrogen gen Energy and Fuel Cells – A vision of our future,
Luxembourg: Of�ice for Of�icial Publications of the
Economy (see box) are strong drivers toward European Communities, 2003 – 36 pp., ISBN 92-
clean hydrogen (H2) production, supply and uti- 894-5589-6.
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 9

European hydrogen and fuel cell roadmap – a challenging vision

H 2 production Hydrogen-
& distribution oriented economy

Direct H 2 production from renewables 2050 FC become dominant technology

De-carbonized H 2 society in transport,
in distributed power generation,
Increasing decarbonization of H 2 production fits and in micro-applications
Renewables, fossil fuel with sequestration, new nuclear 2040 be
ne le
a te e-sc
d p r i l l l a rg n
Widespread H 2 pipeline infrastructure an l Ce tion atio H 2 prime fuel choice for FC vehicles
2030 w a rd F u e a l i z a n e t r
r e d i
n e rc t p e
i c a
Significant H 2 production from renewables bl en m ke
P u d ro g c o m m a r
Hy sin
g FC vehicles competitive for passenger cars
H2 produced from fossil fuels with C sequestration 2020 Inc
re Atmospheric and hybrid SOFC systems
ort tal commercial (< 10 MW)
H2 production by reforming e ff m e n
and electrolysis i v ate unda on
at local refueling station 2010 pr )f ati
nd (FC nstr
e a ell o s FC vehicles series production for fleets
n tiv el C dem fleet
H2 produced by e u ;
NG reforming c i n c a n d F e a rc h n i c h e Stationary low-temperature FC systems
2000 bli ) es t, (PEM; < 300 kW)
and electrolysis Pu n (H 2 lied r d tes
e l Stationary high-temperature FC systems
d ro g d a p p , f i e (MCFC/SOFC; < 500 kW)
H y a n RT D

Fossil fuel-based FC & H 2 systems

economy development & deployment

Source: Adapted from European Commission 2

Figure 3: From fossil fuel-based to hydrogen-oriented economy – Today, H 2 is produced by reforming of natural gas and electrolysis. In 2020, a significant
amount of H 2 will be produced from renewables, and increasing decarbonization of H 2 production is expected for 2040. In a decarbonized H 2 society
around 2050, H 2 will be directly produced from renewables.

These demands can potentially be ful�illed by Figure 4: Exergy efficiency

high temperature processes, which are able How it works – exergy efficiency – Variation of the ideal
to provide large amounts of H2 in centralized exergy efficiency as a
function of the process
plants. Many think that H2 produced using solar Exergy Efficiency
operating temperature
energy will provide the long-term solution for 100% 1
for a blackbody cavity-
solar energy storage. In fact, if H2 is generated 0.9 receiver converting
from solar energy, it is a completely clean tech- concentrated solar en-
nology; no hazardous wastes or climate chang- ergy into chemical energy.
0.7 The mean solar flux
ing byproducts are formed and only sunshine
concentration is the
and water are required. 0.6
parameter (given in units
A lot of research is currently being undertaken 50% 0.5 of 1 sun = 1 kW/m 2): 1000;
around the world, because solar H2 seems to 10000 5000; …; 40,000 suns. Also
have the highest technical and economical po- 5000 plotted are the →Carnot
0.3 efficiency and the locus
tential for successful market introduction. How- 1000
of the optimum cavity
ever, since other technologies for energy storage 0.2
temperature Toptimum.
are available – such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or 0.1

metal oxides – the pros and cons of all of those 0% 0

alternatives should be carefully evaluated. 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 3500 4000

Temperature [K]

Source: Fletcher & Moen, Hydrogen and Oxygen from Water, Science, 1977
Solar fuels production
The conversion of solar energy into solar fuels
opens up numerous possibilities. There are ba-
sically three routes that can be used alone or in The thermochemical route offers some intrigu- (�igure 4). The thermochemical route offers the
combination for producing storable and trans- ing thermodynamic advantages with direct eco- potential of reaching exergy ef�iciencies exceed-
portable fuels from solar energy: nomic implications. Irrespective of the type of ing 50%, higher than those obtained by all alter-
• Electrochemical: solar electricity made from fuel produced, higher reaction temperatures native routes. The higher the exergy ef�iciency,
photovoltaic or concentrating solar thermal yield higher energy conversion ef�iciencies. the lower the required power (solar collection
systems followed by an electrolytic process; However, higher temperatures also lead to area) for producing a given amount of solar fuel
• Photochemical/Photobiological: direct use greater losses by re-radiation from the →solar and, consequently, lower costs for the solar con-
of solar photon energy for photochemical and cavity-receiver. centrating system, which usually correspond to
photobiological processes; half of the total investments of the entire solar
• Thermochemical: solar heat at high temper- Exergy ef�iciency – The measure of how well chemical plant. Thus, high exergy ef�iciencies
atures followed by an endothermic →ther- solar energy is converted into chemical energy imply favorable economic competitiveness.
mochemical process. stored in solar fuels is called →exergy ef�iciency
10 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

In Focus – Solar Concentrating


Solar concentration ratio Solar tower facilities tower. Solar tower systems (�igure 5) – also re-
Non-dimensional ratio of the solar flux The state-of-the-art solar concentrating tech- ferred to as central receiver systems – may have
intensity – e.g., given in “suns”
nology for large-scale solar energy collection at either a circular �ield of heliostats with a can-
(1 sun = 1 kW/m 2) – achieved after
concentration to the normal insolation
high →solar concentration ratio is based on the tered receiver on top of the tower, as in the case
of incident beam. solar tower optical con�iguration using a �ield of (a) the Solar Two power plant at Barstow,
of heliostats (two-axis tracking parabolic or �lat USA, or an asymmetric �ield, like the south fac-
mirrors) that focus the sun rays onto a solar ing test facilites at (b) the Plataforma Solar de
receiver mounted on top of a centrally located Almería (PSA), Spain, and (c) Targassonne,

Solar tower facilities – state of the art

(a) 60 MWth solar tower, Barstow, USA (Solar Two) (b) 7 MWth solar tower, PSA, Almería, Spain (CESA 1) (c) 4.5 MWth solar tower, Targassonne, France

Figure 5: Solar towers – Examples of

concentrating solar research
facilities based on the tower concept.
(d) 500 kWth solar tower, CSIRO, Newcastle, (e) 3 MWth solar tower with “beam down” optics, WIS,
Australia Rehovot, Israel
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 11
12 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

CPC France, or (d) CSIRO’s north facing test facility

Compound Parabolic Concentrator, in Newcastle, Australia. A novel optical con�igu- First commercial solar tower
a secondary optical element intended to
ration – called “beam-down” – developed at (e) power plants
augment the concentration of incoming
solar radiation, e.g. on top of a solar tower
WIS in Israel for the tower system makes use of a
facility. hyperboloidal re�lector at the top of the tower to
re-direct sunlight to a secondary concentrator
Solar furnace and a receiver-reactor located at ground level.
Two main configurations are used:
(a) On-axis: heliostat, parabolic concen-
trator, and experimental platform are
Secondary concentrators – The solar �lux con-
positioned in one line. centration ratio typically obtained by solar tower
(b) Off-axis: facetted mirrors with varying systems is between 1000–1500 suns (1 sun =
focal lengths reflect the solar radiation 1 kW/m2). In principle, such concentrating so-
to the side, where the solar receiver-
lar devices can reach temperatures exceeding
reactor is mounted in the focal plane.
1700°C, with optimal cavity temperatures of Source: Abengoa Solar

HFSS around 1000°C (�igure 4). To some extent, the

Figure 7: Commercial electricity production using so-
High-Flux Solar Simulators (HFSS) in �lux concentration can be further augmented
lar tower concept – The 11 MWel PS10 plant (back)
operation: with the help of a secondary concentrator (�igure is in operation since 2007, and the 20 MWel PS20
(a) 150 kWel HFSS consisting of 10 Xenon
6), such as a compound parabolic concentrator plant (front) is in operation since 2009, both at
arc lamps with common focus at
Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), Villigen,
(→CPC), which is positioned in tandem with the Sanlúcar La Mayor near Seville, Spain.

Switzerland. primary parabolic concentrating system. Higher

(b) 60 kWel HFSS using 10 IR radiators �lux concentrations have the advantage of lower tics is that their smaller acceptance angle – which
at German Aerospace Center (DLR), heat losses from smaller aperture areas and high- requires a longer and less ef�icient heliostat �ield
Cologne, Germany.
er attainable temperatures in the cavity receiver. – results in optimum temperatures closer to
The disadvantage of such solar concentrating op- 1000°C rather than to 2000°C for ef�iciently op-
erating a solar tower system on an annual basis.
The solar concentrating systems have proven to
Secondary concentrator (CPC) be technically feasible in large-scale pilot and
commercial plants aimed at producing elec-
tricity (�igure 7). They make use of a working
�luid (typically air, water, synthetic oil, helium,
sodium, or molten salt) that is heated by solar
energy and then used in traditional steam or gas
turbines. The typical land area required for a 50
MWth solar tower plant is about 300,000 m2,
with a land use factor of 0.25 (fraction of re�lec-
tive mirror area).
Solar thermochemical applications, although
a Source: DLR not as far advanced as solar thermal electricity
generation, employ the same solar concentrat-
ing technologies. However, the heliostat �ield
layout may look different since high-temper-
ature thermochemical processes require a
higher performance in solar concentration than
solar thermal power plants. This also has an im-
pact on investment costs for the concentrating
solar facilities and their operational strategies.

Concentrating solar research facilities

All over the world, research groups are develop-
ing the scienti�ic and engineering know-how for
large scale production of solar fuels, in particu-
lar solar hydrogen. For these state-of-the-art
R&D efforts, dedicated concentrating research
facilities – solar furnaces and solar simulators –
b Source: WIS are employed (�igure 8).

Figure 6: CPC – a) Multiple CPC mounted in front

Solar furnace – Solar furnaces receive the solar
of a solar receiver on the CESA 1 solar tower at
PSA, Spain; b) CPC for “beam down” application radiation by one or more heliostats like solar
at WIS, Israel. towers. But instead of a tower with a central re-
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 13

Solar research infrastructure worldwide – state of the art

50 kWth HFSS at PSI, Villigen (CH)

20 kWth HFSS at DLR, Cologne (D)

25 kWth off-axis solar furnace

at DLR, Cologne (D)

40 kWth on-axis solar furnace

at PSI, Villigen (CH)

1 MWth solar furnace

at CNRS-PROMES, Odeillo (F)

40 kWth on-axis solar furnace

at KIER, Daejeon (KOR)

60 kWth on-axis solar furnace

at Plataforma Solar de Almería (E)

25 kWth off-axis solar furnace

500 kWth solar tower at NREL, Golden, CO (USA)
at CSIRO, Newcastle (AUS)

3 MWth solar tower with “beam down”

optics at WIS, Rehovot (IL)
16 kWth on-axis solar furnace
at Sandia, Albuquerque, NM (USA)

1 MWth solar furnace

at Parkent (Uzbekistan)

Figure 8: Concentrating solar research facilities – High-flux solar furnaces (HFSF) and simulators (HFSS), and solar towers.
14 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

ceiver, a parabolic mirror is used as a secondary ‘off-axis’ concept has the advantage of easier
optical component to concentrate the sunlight operation but is more complex and, therefore,
up to 20,000 times. The parabolic mirror may more expensive.
be facetted because single mirrors are restrict-
ed in their size. The largest solar furnaces in Solar simulator – In contrast to solar furnaces,
Odeillo, France, and Parkent, Uzbekistan, have a which depend on varying weather conditions
thermal power of 1 MW and a size equivalent to and deal with problems of intermittent so-
a 12-story building. The standard geometrical lar irradiation and a moving radiation source,
con�iguration of a →solar furnace consists of high-�lux solar simulators (→HFSS) offer more
a heliostat, parabolic concentrator, and experi- stable and reproducible operating conditions
mental platform in one line and, therefore, is (�igure 10). Experiments requiring long dura-
called ‘on-axis’ (�igure 9). Usually, the reactor tions can be performed easily without the prob-
is mounted on a platform and then raised up lem of daytime-only operation. For ef�icient de-
to the focus of the parabolic mirror, thereby, velopment of solar fuel production processes,
shadowing part of the concentrator. To avoid however, both concentrating research facilities
shadowing of the concentrator, facetted mirrors are extremely important and, because of their
with varying focal lengths can be used to re�lect different characteristics, neither one can be
the solar radiation to the side. This so-called substituted for the other.

How it works – solar furnace

Source: PSI

Figure 9: Solar furnace – PSI’s High-Flux Solar Furnace (HFSF) consists of a 120 m² sun-tracking flat heliostat on-axis with an 8.5 m-diameter paraboloidal con-
centrator. It delivers up to 40 kW at peak concentration ratios exceeding 5000 suns. The solar flux intensity can be further augmented to up to 10,000 suns by
using CPC secondary concentrators. A Venetian blind type shutter located between the heliostat and the concentrator controls the power input to the reactor.
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 15

How it works – solar simulator

lamp array

Lambertian target

Radiation flux measurement

Radiation flux measurement

(4) data processing (3) CCD camera,

(4) data processing optical
(3) CCDfilter
optical filter image
chemical reactor reflector array acquisition
in focus acquisition

(5) intensity
(5) intensity
experimental platform

(2) Lambertian
(1) concentrated (2) Lambertian
(sun-) light target
(1) concentrated
Source: PSI (sun-) light

Figure 10: Solar simulator – PSI’s High-Flux Solar Simulator (HFSS) comprises an array of ten 15 kWel high-pressure Xenon arcs, each closed-coupled with
truncated ellipsoidal specular reflectors of common focus. Each Xe-arc can be switched on and off individually, allowing for adjustment of the radiative
power input into the chemical reactor. The radiation flux distribution in the focal plane is measured optically by recording the image on a Lambertian target,
acquired by a fast CCD camera equipped with optical filters. This facility is able to deliver a total radiative power of 50 kW with a peak radiative flux exceed-
ing 10,000 suns. The total radiative power intercepted by a 6-cm diameter circular target – representing the reactor’s aperture – is 20 kW, and the average
radiative power flux over this aperture is more than 7,000 suns. Such high radiation fluxes correspond to stagnation blackbody temperatures exceeding
3300 K. Further coupling with a tandem 3D-CPC may augment the power flux concentration by approximately 90%. Thus, PSI’s HFSS features the world’s
highest performance level of combined radiative power and power flux.
16 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Solar Hydrogen – Future

Energy Carrier

Electrolysis of water Hydrogen is envisioned as a future energy carri-

Decomposition of water (H 2O) into oxygen er. The production routes require chemical and Hydrogen – future energy carrier
(O 2) and hydrogen gas (H2) due to an
energy sources that are truly sustainable only
electric current being passed through the 5000
Million Tons Oil Equivalent (mtoe)

if they offer closed material cycles that do not 4500
Coal, Lignite
produce CO2. Clean H2 production from water 4000 Gas
Electrolyzer (H2O) and energy from renewable sources will Hydrogen
An apparatus to separate chemically become the paradigm of the hydrogen economy 2500
bonded elements and compounds by
concept. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable 2000
passing an electric current through them. 1500
energy will shift the balance between electricity
LHV and fuels. For many applications, electricity will 500
The lower heating value of a fuel is be used instead of fuels, but two major applica- 0
1990 2001 2010 2020 2030 2050
defined as the amount of heat released by tions will require a massive production of solar
combusting a specified quantity (initially Source: WETO-H 2, 2006
H2. Firstly, renewable energy must be stored for
at 25°C) and returning the temperature of
the combustion products to 150°C, which
balanced use, and, secondly, mobility will prob-
ably be based on fuels rather than electricity. Figure 11: Global energy carrier demand – The WETO
assumes the latent heat of vaporization
(World Energy Technology Outlook) study 1 by
of water in the reaction products is not Therefore even in rather conservative studies,
the European Union is a projection of the world
recovered. the drastic increase in demand for electricity energy system in 2050 with emphasis on the
will be coupled with a rising demand for H2. hydrogen economy. After 2030, the increasing
This development is starting slowly now, but demand for electricity will be coupled with a
various scenarios indicate that H2 will become rising demand for H 2.

more important after 2030. The WETO-H2 sce-

nario predicts a H2 demand equivalent to about and120%, respectively, and →electrolyzers at
1 billion tons of oil in 2050 (�igure 11). 80% ef�iciency, the overall solar-to-hydrogen
energy conversion ef�iciency ranges between
12% and 16%. Projected costs of H2, assuming
Solar production of hydrogen solar thermal electricity costs of 0.08 $/kWhel,
Solar electricity – generated via photovoltaics range from 0.15–0.20 $/kWh (→LHV of H2),
(PV) or concentrating thermal power (CSP) i.e. from 6–8 $/kg H2. For PV electricity, costs
– followed by →electrolysis of water, is a vi- are expected to be twice as high. The electric-
able technical route for producing H2. Today, ity demand for electrolysis can be signi�icantly
it can be considered as a benchmark for other reduced if the electrolysis of water proceeds at
routes such as solar-driven water-splitting
thermochemical cycles that offer the potential 1 World Energy Technology Outlook – 2050,
of energy ef�icient large-scale production of Luxembourg: Of�ice for Of�icial Publications of
the European Communities, 2006,
H2 (�igure 12). With solar electricity from PV ISBN 92-79-01636-9, online: http://ec.europa.eu/
and solar thermal at ef�iciencies of around 15% research/energy/pdf/weto-h2_en.pdf
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 17
18 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

A Solid Oxide Electrolyzer Cell is able to
How it works – thermochemical routes for the production of
split water at high temperatures up
to 900°C with a higher efficiency than solar fuels (H 2, syngas)
conventional steam (alkaline) electrolysis
near room temperature. This technology H2O-splitting Decarbonization
currently under development is one Concentrated
Solar Energy
promising candidate for efficient high
temperature hydrogen production.
H 2O Fossil Fuels
(NG, oil, coal)
Flow of gas through an orifice whose
diameter is small as compared with the
distance between molecules of the gas.

Quench Solar Solar

Solar Electricity Solar Solar Solar
Rapid cooling – for example used as Thermochemical
Thermolysis Cycle Reforming Cracking Gasification
gas separation technique to prevent Electrolysis
recombination of product gases.

The Very High Temperature Reactor is
one of six designs under discussion for
the next generation of nuclear reactors.
Optional CO2/C
Recently, a pebble bed nuclear reactor was Sequestration
demonstrated at the research center Jülich,
Source: PSI Solar Fuels (Hydrogen, Syngas)

Sulfur-iodine cycle Figure 12: Thermochemical routes for solar hydrogen production – Indicated is the chemical source of H 2:
3-step cycle based on the thermal decom- H2O for the solar thermolysis and the solar thermochemical cycles; fossil fuels for the solar cracking,
position of sulfuric acid (H 2SO 4) at 850°C. and a combination of fossil fuels and H 2O for the solar reforming and solar gasification. For the
Mainly developed by General Atomics (GA) solar decarbonization processes, optional CO 2/C sequestration is considered. All of those routes
and demonstrated as an electrically heated involve energy consuming (endothermic) reactions that make use of concentrated solar radiation as
laboratory plant at Japan Atomic Energy the energy source of high-temperature process heat.
Agency in 2004.

UT-3 cycle
4-step cycle based on the hydrolysis of cal- higher temperatures (800–1000°C) via Solid atures required by the thermodynamics of the
cium and iron bromide (CaBr 2 and FeBr 2) at
Oxide Electrolyzer Cells (→SOEC). Concentrat- process (e.g. 2725°C for 64% dissociation at at-
750°C and 600°C, respectively. University
of Tokyo (UT), Japan.
ed solar energy can be applied to provide the mospheric pressure) pose severe material limi-
high-temperature process heat. tations and can lead to signi�icant re-radiation
Redox reaction from the reactor, thereby lowering the ef�iciency.
Reduction/oxidation reactions describe all
chemical reactions in which atoms have
H2 from H2O by solar thermolysis
their oxidation number (oxidation state)
The single-step thermal dissociation of H2O to H2 from H2O by solar thermochemical cycles
H2 and O2 is known as water thermolysis. Al- Water-splitting thermochemical cycles by-
Aerosol-flow reactor though conceptually simple, its realization is pass the separation problem and further allow
The aerosol flow reactor method is a simple very challenging since it needs a high-temper- operation at moderately high temperatures.
and efficient one-step process that can
ature heat source above 2200°C for achieving Previous studies performed on thermochemi-
directly produce particles within a desirable
particle size range with consistent and
a reasonable degree of dissociation, and an ef- cal cycles were mostly characterized by using
controlled properties. fective technique for separating H2 and O2 to process heat at temperatures below 950°C,
avoid an explosive mixture. Among the ideas which are expected to be available in the future
proposed for separating H2 from the products from very high temperature nuclear reactors
are →effusion separation and electrolytic sepa- (→VHTR). These cycles required three or more
ration. Membranes based on ceramics like zir- chemical reaction steps (two steps in the case of
conia and other high-temperature materials the hybrid sulfuric acid cycle incorporating one
have been tested above this temperature, but electrolysis step) and are challenging because
they usually fail to withstand the severe ther- of material problems and inherent inef�icien-
mal shocks that often occur when working un- cies associated with heat transfer and product
der high-�lux solar irradiation. separation at each step. The leading candidates
Rapid →quench by injecting a cold gas, expan- for multi-step thermochemical cycles include
sion in a nozzle, or submerging a solar-irradiat- mainly a three-step →sulfur iodine cycle based
ed target in liquid water, is simple and workable, on the thermal decomposition of sulfuric acid
but the quench introduces a signi�icant drop in at 850°C and a four-step →UT-3 cycle based on
the exergy ef�iciency and produces an explosive the hydrolysis of calcium and iron bromide at
gas mixture. Furthermore, the very high temper- 750°C and 600°C, respectively.
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 19

In recent years, signi�icant progress has been Figure 14: Rotary solar
made in the development of optical systems Rotary solar cavity reactor reactor for the thermal
for large-scale solar concentrators capable of dissociation of zinc oxide
rotary to zinc and oxygen at
achieving mean solar concentration ratios that ceramic feeder joint inlets/outlets
insulation above 1700°C – The
exceed 5,000 suns. Such high radiation �luxes ZnO
concept features
allow temperatures above 1200°C, which are cavity - a windowed rotating
receiver Zn + ½ O 2
needed for the more ef�icient two-step thermo- cavity-receiver lined
chemical cycles using metal oxide →redox reac- with ZnO particles that
quartz are held by centrifugal
tions (�igure 13). window force. With this arrange-
ment, ZnO is directly
exposed to high-flux
How it works – metal oxide cycles solar irradiation and
serves simultaneously
radiation the functions of radi-
Solar Energy
ant absorber, thermal
insulator, and chemical
MxOy = xM + y/2 O2 M

Rotary solar reactor
H 2O
xM + yH2O = MxOy + yH2


Source: PSI

Figure 13: Thermochemical route based on metal

oxide redox reactions – The first step of the cycle
is the solar thermal release of O 2 from the
metal oxide (MxO y). This step requires very high
temperatures. The second step is the reaction
of the metal (M) with H 2O to form H 2 and the cor-
responding M xO y. This step proceeds at lower
temperatures and does not require additional
heating in some cases. Since H 2 and O 2 are Source: CNRS-PROMES
formed in different steps, the need for high-tem-
perature gas separation is thereby eliminated. Figure 15: Lab-scale solar reactor for the reduction of tin oxide (SnO 2) at 1500°C – The rotary reactor can
This cycle was originally proposed for an iron operate continuously by particle injection and at reduced nitrogen pressure in order to decrease the
oxide redox system. decomposition temperature.

Zn/ZnO cycle – One of the most researched seconds and was resistant to thermal shocks. sible application of this cycle is to use the energy
metal oxide redox pairs for the two-step cycle is In 2010, the solar chemical reactor concept for carrier Zn directly in Zn-air batteries. This tech-
based on zinc (Zn) and zinc oxide (ZnO). Since the thermal dissociation of ZnO will be demon- nology is already commercially available, and
the products of the solar high temperature ZnO strated in a 100 kWth pilot plant at a large solar some companies are pursuing a fuel-cell ana-
decomposition – gaseous Zn and oxygen (O2) – research facility. logue with ‘mechanically-rechargeable’ Zn-air
rapidly recombine, a quenching process is nec- For the H2 production step (Zn + H2O → ZnO batteries for stationary or mobile applications.
essary. The estimated exergy ef�iciency of this + H2) laboratory studies and preliminary tests
cycle is 35% without heat recovery from the with a novel concept of a hydrolyser (hydrolysis SnO/SnO2 cycle – Another promising metal
quench process. Alternatively, electro-thermal reactor) indicate that the water-splitting reac- oxide cycle is based on tin oxide (redox pair
methods for in-situ separation of gaseous Zn tion works at reasonable rates above 425°C. SnO/SnO2). Exergy and energy ef�iciencies of
and O2 at high temperatures have been experi- This was experimentally demonstrated using a this redox pair are 30% and 36% respectively.
mentally demonstrated in small-scale reactors. so-called →aerosol-�low reactor for in-situ for- Atmospheric and reduced pressure experi-
High-temperature separation further enables mation and hydrolysis of Zn nano-particles. In ments showed that the SnO2 reduction can be
recovery of the sensible and latent heats of the principle, the heat liberated by the exothermic performed ef�iciently at 1500°C and the SnO
products to enhance the ef�iciency. A high-tem- reaction could be used to melt Zn and produce hydrolysis at 550°C. A 1 kW solar reactor pro-
perature solar chemical reactor concept was de- steam. Alternatively, if the H2 production plant totype was successfully tested for continuous
veloped for this process (�igure 14). Solar tests was located next to the solar plant, molten Zn operation at Odeillo, France (�igure 15).
carried out at PSI’s solar furnace, Switzerland, from the quencher unit at 425°C (or higher)
with a 10 kW reactor prototype subjected to a could be fed directly to the hydrolyser. On the Mixed iron oxide cycle – Other metal ox-
peak solar concentration of 4000 suns revealed other hand, transportation of solid Zn to the site ides such as manganese oxide or cobalt oxide,
the low thermal inertia of the reactor system – where H2 is �inally used eliminates the need for as well as mixed oxides redox pairs – mainly
the surface temperature reached 1700°C in two storage and transportation of H2. Another pos- based on iron – have also been considered. The
20 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Consists of nano-sized particles hav- Monolithic solar reactor
ing diameters of less than 1 microm- four-way
to mass
eter. N2
steam ducts for feed
gases inlet for feed
Reducing agent N2 (O2) gases
Donates electrons to a chemical com- steam

pound, e.g. de-oxidizes a metal.

Syngas valve

Synthesis gas is a mixture of H 2 and CO

double tube
produced by reacting natural gas with for feed gas
steam at 850°C and high pressure. The preheating

name comes from its role as an important cylindrical sealing

starting substance for chemical synthesis. SiC housing
quartz windows
Source: DLR coated honeycomb structure
Term mainly used for permanent storage Figure 16: Monolithic dual chamber solar receiver-reactor for continuous H 2 production – The concept
of CO 2, either in gaseous form in deep features a closed receiver-reactor constructed from ceramic multi-channeled monoliths (left).
geological formations, in liquid form in the Cyclic operation of the water-splitting and regeneration steps is established in two reaction
ocean, or in solid form in mineral carbon- chambers. Their individual temperature levels are controlled by focusing and defocusing heliostats
ates. during thermal tests at PSA, Spain (right).

A process developed in 1925 by Franz mixed iron oxide cycle was demonstrated at Continuation within the EU’s award-winning
Fischer and Hans Tropsch to convert syn- the 10 kWth level within the EU’s R&D project P&D project HYDROSOL 2 (2005-2009) is di-
gas into liquid hydrocarbons, e.g. fuels like
HYDROSOL (2002–2005). The model for the rected at testing a 100 kWth dual chamber pi-
gasoline or diesel.
monolithic solar thermochemical reactor (�ig- lot reactor at the Plataforma Solar de Almería
Watergas shift reaction ure 16) was the catalytic converter used for (PSA), Spain.
Chemical reaction in which CO reacts with exhaust treatment in automobiles. The reactor
water to form CO 2 and H 2. contains no moving parts and is constructed Carbothermal reduction of metal oxides
from ceramic multi-channeled monoliths that – The carbothermal reduction of metal ox-
Pressure swing adsorption
Technology used to separate some gas
absorb the solar radiation. The monolith chan- ides using coke, natural gas (NG), and other
species from a mixture of gases under nels are coated with mixed iron oxide →nano- carbonaceous materials as →reducing agents
pressure at near-ambient tempera- materials, which are activated by heating to brings about reduction of the oxides at even
tures. 1250°C. After releasing the O2, they are capable lower temperatures. Carbothermal reductions
of splitting water vapor passing through the of metal oxides like iron oxide, manganese ox-
reactor by trapping the O2 and leaving H2 as ide, and zinc oxide with carbon and natural gas
the product in the ef�luent gas stream at 800°C. to produce the metals and →syngas have been
Thus, no explosive gas mixtures are produced. demonstrated in solar furnaces. Such a solar
Cyclic operation is established on a single, chemical reactor concept – PSI’s ‘two-cavity’
closed receiver-reactor system. A quasi-contin- solar reactor (�igure 17) based on the indirect
uous H2 �low is produced by alternate operation irradiation of ZnO and carbon (C) for producing
of two or more reaction chambers. Zn and carbon monoxide (CO) – was scaled up

Figure 17: Two-cavity solar

Two-cavity solar reactor reactor concept for the carbo-
thermal reduction of ZnO –
300 kW The upper cavity (absorber)
concentrated solar
serves as the solar receiver
upper cavity power
(absorber) and radiant emitter. The
quartz lower cavity is a well-insu-
carrier gas
window lated enclosure containing a
inlet ZnO/C packed bed. It serves
as the reaction chamber
and is subjected to thermal
radiation from the upper
lower cavity
cavity. With this arrange-
(reaction chamber)
ment, the upper cavity
protects the quartz window
against particles and con-
ZnO/C gaseous densable gases coming from
packed-bed products
the reaction chamber.

Source: PSI
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 21

within the EU’s R&D project SOLZINC (2001– process can be CO2-neutral if charcoal is used forming process developed within the EU’s R&D
2005). Testing of the 300 kWth solar chemical for reducing ZnO. project SOLREF (2004–2009) has been scaled-
reactor (�igure 18) at the solar tower research up to power levels of 300–500 kWth and tested
facility of WIS, in Israel, at temperatures rang- at 850°C and 8–10 bars in a solar tower using
ing from 1000–1200°C yielded up to 50 kg/h H2 by decarbonization of fossil fuels two solar reforming reactor concepts: indirect-
of 95%-purity Zn and an energy conversion Three solar thermochemical processes for H2 irradiation and direct-irradiation (see box).
ef�iciency of around 30%. The SOLZINC proc- production using fossil fuels as the chemical The indirect-irradiated solar reforming reactor
ess provides an ef�icient thermochemical route source are considered: cracking, reforming, (not shown here) consists of a cavity receiver
for storing and transporting solar energy. The and gasi�ication (�igure 19). The solar cracking insulated with ceramic �ibers that contains a
route refers to the thermal decomposition of set of vertical tubes externally exposed to the
NG, oil, and other hydrocarbon into H2 and car- concentrated solar radiation. A matching CPC
bon. The carbonaceous solid product can either is installed at the windowless cavity →aperture
be →sequestered (see box) without CO2 release for capturing radiation spillage, augmenting the
or used as material commodity or reducing average solar �lux concentration, and providing
agent under less severe CO2 restraints. uniform heating of the tubes. Similar to the indi-
Steam-reforming of NG, oil, and other hydrocar- rect-irradiated reactor, a CPC is installed at the
bons, and steam-gasi�ication of coal and other aperture of the direct-irradiated solar reactor –
solid carbonaceous materials yield syngas, the also referred to as the volumetric solar reactor
building block for a wide variety of synthetic (�igure 20).
fuels including →Fischer-Tropsch type chemi-
Source: PSI cals, H2, ammonia, and methanol. The quality
is determined mainly by the ratios between H2,
Figure 18: 300 kW th solar chemical pilot plant devel-
CO, and CO2. The CO content in the syngas can Volumetric solar reactor
oped and tested in the EU’s R&D project SOLZINC –
The two-cavity reactor (1.4 m inner diameter) for
be shifted to H2 via a catalytic reaction with CPC Window Reactants inlet

the carbothermal reduction of ZnO is specifically steam – the so called →watergas shift reaction.
designed for beam-down incident radiation, as The product, CO2, can be separated from H2, e.g.
obtained at the solar tower research facility at by using the →pressure swing adsorption tech-
WIS, Israel.

Solar reforming – Solar reforming of NG, using

How it works – decarbonization either steam or CO2, has been extensively stud-
processes ied in solar concentrating facilities with small- Catalytic absorber Products outlet

Concentrated scale solar reactor prototypes. The solar re- Source: DLR
Solar Energy

Solar Cracking
Figure 20: Volumetric solar reactor concept for the
Fossil Fuels
(NG, oil) Reactor
Reac reforming of NG – The main component is the
How it works – carbon sequestration
porous ceramic absorber, coated with Rhodium
H2 C Sequestration
From the point of view of carbon sequestration, catalyst, which is directly exposed to the
it is easier to separate, handle, transport, and concentrated solar radiation. A concave quartz
store solid carbon than gaseous CO 2. Further- window, mounted at the aperture, minimizes
Fuel cell reflection losses and permits operation at
Work Output more, while the steam reforming/gasification
method requires additional steps for shifting CO elevated pressures.
and for separating CO 2, the thermal cracking
Concentrated accomplishes the removal and separation of
Solar Energy carbon in a single step.
Solar reactor – direct vs. indirect irradiation
Fossil Fuels In contrast, the major drawback of the thermal
(coal, NG, oil) Solar Gas ./Ref.
Reactor decomposition method is the energy loss Direct-irradiation reactor – Provides efficient ra-
associated with the sequestration of carbon. diation heat transfer to the reaction site where
H 2O
Thus, the solar cracking may be the preferred the energy is needed, by-passing the limitations
H 2O
H2 option for NG and other hydrocarbons with high imposed by indirect heat transport via heat
H 2/C ratio. For coal and other solid carbona- exchangers. The major drawback when work-
Shift CO2 ceous materials, the solar gasification has the ing with reducing or inert atmospheres is the
Reactor Separation
additional benefit of converting a solid fuel requirement for a transparent window, which is
traditionally used for combustion to generate a critical and troublesome component in high-
O2 electricity into a cleaner fluid fuel – cleaner only pressure and severe gas environments.
H2 CO2
Sequestration when using solar process heat – that can be
Indirect-irradiation reactor – Eliminates the
used in highly efficient fuel cells.
need for a transparent window. The disadvan-
Fuel cell Work Output
For the solar NG cracking and the solar coal tages are linked to the limitations imposed by
Source: PSI the materials of construction of the reactor
gasification without CO 2 sequestration, specific
CO 2 emissions amount to 0.53-0.56 kg CO 2/ walls: constraints in maximum operating tem-
Figure 19: Solar thermochemical routes for H 2 pro- kWh el, about half as much as the specific emis- perature, thermal conductivity, radiant absorb-
duction using fossil fuels and H 2O as the chemical sions discharged by conventional coal-fired ance, inertness, resistance to thermal shocks,
source – Solar cracking (top), and solar reforming power plants. and suitability for transient operation.
and gasification (bottom).
22 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Aperture Dry reforming of methane (CH4) with CO2 was later time and place, the reaction products of
Opening of a solar cavity-receiver for ac- performed in an aerosol solar reactor similar H2 and nitrogen (N2) react in an energy releas-
cepting incoming solar radiation.
to the one used for NG cracking (see �igure 24 ing (exothermic) reaction to re-synthesize am-
below). Operating with residence times around monia. An industrial demonstration plant has
Catalysis is the process in which the rate 10 milliseconds and temperatures of approxi- been announced using four of ANU’s 400 m2
of a chemical reaction is increased by mately 1700°C, methane and CO2 conversions →parabolic dishes.
means of a chemical substance known as of 70% and 65%, respectively, were achieved in
a catalyst.
the absence of →catalysts. Solar steam gasi�ication – The steam-gasi�ica-
Rankine cycle
The solar dry reforming of CH4 with CO2 can tion of carbonaceous materials and related re-
Thermodynamic cycle that converts heat also be used in a closed-loop chemical heat pipe actions has been performed using concentrated
into work. The heat is supplied externally to (�igure 21). The product of this reversible reac- solar energy in early exploratory studies with
a closed loop, which usually uses water as tion is syngas which can be stored at ambient coal and oil shale. A conceptual design of a solar
the working fluid.
temperatures and transported to sites requir- reactor for the gasi�ication of carbonaceous ma-
Parabolic dish
ing energy. Stored solar energy is released by terials was performed using optical �ibers to di-
A 3-dimensional parabola-shaped reflective the reverse exothermic reaction in the form of rect the solar radiation into the reaction cham-
device (e.g. faceted mirror) used to collect heat, which can be used for generating electric- ber. In the framework of the industrial project
and focus solar energy. ity via a →Rankine cycle. The products of this SYNPET (2003–2009), the solar chemical tech-
reverse reaction are again recycled to the solar nology for the steam-gasi�ication of →petcoke
Petroleum coke (often abbreviated petcoke)
reactor to complete the cycle. particles was developed. For this process, a 10
is a carbonaceous solid by-product Similarly, the dissociation/synthesis of ammo- kWth solar reactor was designed that featured
derived from oil refinery coker units or other nia (NH3) can be applied in a chemical heat pipe a continuous gas-particle →vortex �low con-
cracking processes. for storage and transportation of solar energy. �ined to a cavity receiver and directly exposed
In this system developed by the Australian Na- to concentrated solar radiation. A scale-up of
Vortex flow
Motion of a spinning, often turbulent flow of
tional University (ANU), ammonia is dissociat- the vortex solar reactor (�igure 22) to 500 kWth
fluid swirling rapidly around a center. ed in an energy storing (endothermic) chemical and testing at the Plataforma Solar de Almería is
reactor as it absorbs solar thermal energy. At a progressing within the timeframe of the project.
Claus process
Chemical process originally developed to
produce sulfur from H 2 sulfide, which Figure 21: Solar chemical
is being formed as by-product in the
How it works – chemical heat pipe heat pipe for the storage and
formation of coke from coal or the desul- transportation of solar energy
furization of crude oil. – High-temperature solar
process heat is used to drive
the endothermic reversible
reaction A–B. The product B
may be stored and trans-
ported to the site where the
energy is needed. At that
site, the exothermic reverse
reaction B–A is effected and
yields high temperature proc-
ess heat in an amount equal
to the stored solar energy.
The chemical product A of the
Source: PSI reverse reaction is returned to
the solar reactor for reuse.

Figure 22: Vortex solar reactor

Vortex solar reactor for the steam-gasification of
petcoke – This configura-
petcoke + H2O slurry tion features a continuous
quartz window ceramic cavity gas-particle vortex flow
vortex flow confined to a cavity receiver
and directly exposed to
concentrated solar radiation.
The reactants are injected
concentrated as liquid slurry of petcoke
solar particles and water.

(H2 + CO)
H2O nozzle

Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 23

Tubular solar reactor Aerosol solar reactor

particle feed

H2 sweep
feed NG

C(gr) tube

solid C(gr)


H2, C, CHx

Source: CNRS-PROMES Source: NREL

Figure 23: Tubular solar reactor for NG cracking – Methane (CH 4) and argon (Ar), are indirectly heated Figure 24: Aerosol solar reactor for thermal cracking
inside graphite tubes (top). Test campaign with a 10 kW th solar reactor prototype for NG cracking at of NG – This configuration features two con-
the focus of the 1 MW solar furnace, Odeillo, France (bottom). centric graphite tubular reactors: the outer solid
tube serves as the solar absorber and the inner
porous tube contains the reacting flow consist-
ing of fine carbon black particles suspended in a
CH 4 feed gas stream.
Solar cracking – Cracking of CH4 or NG is a serve simultaneously as radiant absorbers and
nonconventional route for potentially cost-ef- nucleation sites for the heterogeneous decom-
fective H2 production and carbon nano-mate- position reaction.
rial synthesis with concentrated solar energy.
The process thermally decomposes NG in a
high temperature solar chemical reactor, yield- H2 from H2S by solar thermolysis
ing two valuable products: a H2-rich gas and a An optional source of H2 is hydrogen sul�ide
marketable high-value nano-material called (H2S), a toxic industrial byproduct derived from
‘Carbon Black’ (CB). Thus, both H2 and CB are NG, petroleum, and coal processing. Current
produced by renewable energy, resulting in po- industrial practice uses the →Claus process to
tential CO2 emission reduction of 14 kg of CO2 recover sulfur from H2S, but H2 is wasted by
and energy saving of 277 MJ per kg H2 com- oxidizing it to H2O. Alternatively, H2S can be
pared to conventional NG steam reforming and thermally decomposed above 1500°C to pro-
standard CB processing. duce H2 and sulfur (S), which, after quenching,
A novel 10 kWth tubular solar reactor (�igure 23) naturally separate due to phase change. Solar
was successfully tested at a temperature range experiments indicate high degrees of chemical
of 1430–1800°C at the solar furnace of CNRS- conversion.
PROMES in Odeillo, France. A high dissociation
of 98% was achieved with a 90% H2 yield. An
advanced 50 kWth solar reactor prototype is
being developed in the framework of the EU’s
R&D project SOLHYCARB (2006–2010). Also,
a tubular aerosol reactor (�igure 24) was tested
at NREL in Golden, Colorado, where methane
conversion of up to 90% was obtained. Fur-
ther studies are being performed at ETH Zurich,
Switzerland, in a so-called vortex solar reactor
con�iguration (�igure 22), which was tested in a
methane �low laden with carbon particles that
24 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Solar Hydrogen –
At Competitive Costs!

The economical competitiveness of solar fuel The weaknesses of these economic assessments
production is closely related to two factors: the are primarily related to the uncertainties in the Relative HPC (best case =1) 2.3
cost of fossil fuels and the necessity to control viable ef�iciencies and investment costs of the 1.9
the world climate by drastically reducing CO2 various solar components due to their early 1.7
1.5 200m
emissions. Transition processes like the solar stage of development and their economy of 1.3 1000m
steam reforming of NG will be economically scale. Therefore, further development and large- 1.1
0.9 1800m
competitive at a NG price of 11 $/MMBtu or scale demonstrations are warranted. This would 0.7
0.42 $/Nm3; for comparison, the NG price for have positive effects on achievable ef�iciencies 0.5
0 100 200 300 400 500 600
long-term contracts was 8-9 $/MMBtu, and the and investment cost reduction for materials and Thermal Power [MW]
spot price was 14-16 $/MMBtu (DOE, 2008).1 components. In this respect, an important factor Source: HYTHEC
Both the US Department of Energy and the Eu- will be the massive installation of commercial
ropean Commission have a clear vision of the solar thermal power plants, in particular power Figure 26: Comparison of H 2 production costs (HPC)
hydrogen economy with �irm targets for H2 pro- towers, since heliostats will be one of the most for solar, nuclear, and hybrid powered H 2 production
plants based on the hybrid sulfuric acid cycle – The
duction costs: the US target (�igure 25) for 2017 expensive components of a solar thermal H2
EU-FP6 project HYTHEC (2004–2007) has evalu-
is 3 $/gge (gasoline gallon equivalent; 1 gge is production plant. ated 26 scenarios for large-scale H 2 production
about 1 kg H2), and the EU target for 2020 is based on the hybrid sulfuric acid thermochemi-
3.50 €/kg H2. DOE’s →H2A Analysis Group has cal cycle using either solar, nuclear, or hybrid
developed the tools necessary to conduct rig- (combined solar and nuclear) sources of high
Massive hydrogen production – temperature process heat. Interestingly enough,
orous and consistent analyses of a wide range economics H 2 production cost would be lower for solar
of H2 technologies and the transition to a H2 thermal plants than for nuclear plants in a power
economy. Predicted solar thermal hydrogen Characteristics Units 2006 2012 2017 range up to 250 MW th, whereas hybrid operation
production cost are 2–4 $/kg for ef�icient solar Target Target Target would be the cheapest solution at power levels
thermochemical cycles. Solar thermo- $/gge 10 6 3 above 300 MW th. These findings are in good
chemical H2 cost H2 agreement with conceptual studies presented by
The economics of massive solar H2 production
General Atomics (GA) in the early 1980s where
(�igure 26) has been assessed in numerous Installed helio- $/m 2 180 140 80
stat capital cost the high temperature step of sulfur-based ther-
studies, which indicate that the solar thermo- mochemical cycles was assumed being carried
chemical production of H2 can be competitive Process energy % 25 30 >35 out in a solar reactor.
compared with the electrolysis of H2O using
solar-generated electricity. As described above, Source: STCH

it can even become competitive with conven- Figure 25: Technical and economic targets of the US
tional fossil-fuel-based processes at current DOE hydrogen program – Cost improvements by
fuel prices, especially if credits for CO2 mitiga- technical innovations (process energy efficien-
cy), scaling up the solar chemical plant, and
tion and pollution avoidance are applied.
increasing the production volume are expected
for the STCH project (Solar-driven high tempe-
1 US DOE, February 2008, rature Thermo Chemical Hydrogen production)
http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/oog/info/ngw/ngupdate.asp endorsed by the IPHE.
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 25
26 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Boosting Solar Fuels – Need for

Worldwide R & D

H2A Most activities on solar fuel production are fund- ogy Initiative (JTI)2 and the hydrogen program of
US Department of Energy (DOE) standard ed by national or international research programs the US DOE3 (�igure 27). The projects are gener-
format and list of parameters for reporting
like the Framework Programs of the European ally carried out by international consortia from
realistic economic and technology-based
analysis results for central production,
Union1, the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Joint Technol- R&D, industry and academia (see �igure 28).
distributed production, and delivery of H 2.
2 JTI: https://www.hfpeurope.org/hfp/jti
1 3
EU FP7: http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7/ US DOE: www.hydrogen.energy.gov/

Networking – benefits from synergy

European JTI
European HFP Hydrogen & Fuel Cell
Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Joint Technology Initiative
Technology Platform
EU-FP6 Projects
Coordination Group
EU-FP7 Projects
Solar Heating and Cooling US DOE / Japan
GEN IV Projects
Other Hydrogen US DOE
Technology Agreements Hydrogen + Other Nat
& Int’l Projects
Task 25 Task II
High Temperature Solar Chemistry
Processes (HTP) Research

Expert Groups
Hydrogen Production

STCH – Solar high temperature Thermo Chemical production of Hydrogen
SOLREF – Solar Hydrogen from Reforming of Methane
HYTHEC – HYdrogen THErmochemical Cycles

Source: DLR and PSI

Figure 27: Network for solar fuels – Linking pertinent research activities for the production of solar
hydrogen and other fuels under the umbrella of international organizations such as IEA or IPHE.
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 27
28 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

International networking – The global rel-

evance of solar fuels makes it necessary to Solar projects – endorsement by IPHE
link the pertinent research activities under the
umbrella of organizations such as the Interna- STCH – Solar Thermo Chemical production of H2
• Within this project, the most promising
tional Energy Agency (IEA)4 and the Interna-
thermochemical cycles for H 2 production will
tional Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy be identified, and one or two cycles will be
(IPHE)5. down-selected for demonstration.
• Lower cost solar concentrating technology
International Energy Agency – The main net- will be developed, as well as solar receiver
and thermochemical reactor technology to
work for solar fuels (�igure 27) is Task II on
demonstrate a fully integrated thermochemi-
Solar Chemistry Research of the IEA Solar- cal process on-sun.
PACES Implementing Agreement6. Task 25 on
High Temperature Hydrogen Production of the SOLREF – Solar H 2 from Reforming of Methane
IEA Hydrogen Implementing Agreement (IEA- • The project aims at designing, testing, and
demonstrating a unique, low temperature,
HIA)7 creates a link between solar, nuclear, and
steam reforming reactor using concentrated
conventional H2 production technologies. solar energy.
• A world-class solar facility for international
International Partnership for the Hydrogen collaboration in H 2 production from solar
Economy – The IPHE was established in 2003 sources will be built to integrate the system.
as an international institution to accelerate the
HYTHEC – HYdrogen THErmochemical Cycles
transition to a global hydrogen economy. This • Within the former EU-FP6 project HYTHEC
key organization is supported by the govern- (2004–2007), the potential for massive H 2
ments of the member states. The purpose of the production by the sulfur-iodine (S-I) cycle was
IPHE is to provide a mechanism for partners to investigated and compared to the hybrid sul-
furic acid cycle. The work is being continued
organize, coordinate and implement effective,
in the EU-FP7 project HyCycleS (2008–2010).
ef�icient and focused international research, • The emphasis is on the suitability of materials
development, demonstration and commercial and the reliability of components of a scalable
utilization activities related to H2 and fuel cell reactor. Of particular interest is the potential
technologies. A number of high-quality solar use of solar primary energy sources for the
decomposition of sulfuric acid.
thermochemical projects for the massive pro-
duction of H2 are endorsed by the IPHE (see box).

4 IEA: http://www.iea.org/index.asp
IPHE: http://www.iphe.net/
6 IEA-SolarPACES Task II: http://www.solarpaces.
7 IEA-HIA Task 25: http://www.ieahia.org/page.
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 29

Solar fuels production – worldwide activities (national and international research programs)

Topic of R&D Participating Entity Remarks

Solar Decarbonization • CIEMAT (E) + ETH/PSI (CH) Petcoke gasification;

+ PDVSA (Venezuela) Industrial project SYNPET

• ETH/PSI (CH) Gasification of carbonaceous material

• CNRS-PROMES (F) + ETH/PSI (CH) NG cracking;

+ N-GHY (F) + CREED (F)
+ APTL (GR) + WIS (IL) + DLR (D)
• Florida Solar Energy Center (USA)

• DLR (D) + WIS (IL) + ETH (CH) NG reforming;

• CSIRO (Australia) EU-FP6 project SOLREF
• Tokyo Institute/Niigata U. (Japan)

Solar Thermochemical Cycles • APTL (GR) + DLR (D) Fe-based cycle;

+ Johnson Matthey (UK) EU-FP5 project HYDROSOL,
+ StobbeTech (DK) + CIEMAT (E) EU-FP6 project HYDROSOL 2

• PSI/ETH (CH) + U. of Minnesota (USA) ZnO/Zn cycle

• PSI/ETH (CH) + WIS (IL) ZnO+C reaction;

+ CNRS-PROMES (F) + ScanArc (S) EU-FP5 project SOLZINC

• CNRS-PROMES (F) SnO 2/SnO cycle and comparison with ZnO/Zn cycle;
Ce-based mixed oxide cycles; Fe-based cycles

• Sandia + NREL + U. of Colorado ZnO cycle; Fe-based cycle; SI cycle;

+ Pinnacle West (USA) DOE project

• Tokyo Institute / Niigata U. (Japan) Fe-based cycle

• ENEA (I) UT3-cycle

• CEA (F) + DLR (D) + ProSim (F) SI cycle; hybrid sulfuric acid cycle;
+ U. of Sheffield (UK) + DIMI (I) EU-FP6 project HYTHEC
+ Empresarios Agrupados (E)

• DLR (D) + CEA (France) + ETH (CH) SI cycle, materials, components;

+ U. of Sheffield (UK) + BoosTec (F) EU-FP7 project HyCycleS
+ Empresarios Agrupados (E)
+ APTL (GR) + JRC (EU) + ENEA (I)
+ General Atomics (USA) + Westinghouse (USA)
+ JAEA (Japan) + CSIRO (Australia)

Figure 28: Solar fuels production – Overview on

research institutes active in national and
international research programs for producing
solar hydrogen and other fuels.
30 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Transition to Solar Fuels –

Recommended Strategy

The ultimate goal of all research activities de- were thought to bene�it from synergies in their
scribed above is to develop technically and development. Some of the proposed processes
economically viable technologies for solar can be operated by both energy sources sepa-
thermochemical processes that can produce so- rately or in hybrid installations. However, the
lar fuels, particularly H2. The implementation nuclear option is impeded in many countries
should start immediately to accelerate the tran- due to political opposition, and the processes
sition from today’s fossil-fuel-based economy driven by future VHTR are limited to 950°C. In
to tomorrow’s solar driven hydrogen economy particular, the processes with highest exergy ef-
(�igure 29). �iciency can only be attained by concentrating
solar systems.

R&D strategy for solar H2 production Processes and timeframe – Since the various
The EU-FP6 project INNOHYP-CA (2004–2006) solar fuel production technologies under con-
has developed a roadmap to implement thermo- sideration are at diverse stages of maturity, the
chemical processes for massive H2 production INNOHYP-CA project proposes three phases
(�igure 30). Within this project, processes with and a staggered timeframe for their individual
both solar and nuclear sources of process heat development and commercial demonstration.

Figure 29: Strategy for substitu-

How it works – transition to solar fuels tion of fossil fuels with solar H 2
involving research on two paths
– The long-term approach
via H2O-splitting thermo-
chemical cycles brings us to
Fossil & Solar
the complete substitution of
Energy Mix fossil fuels with solar H 2. The
short-to-mid term approach
Solar Decarbonization of Fossil Fuels via decarbonization of fossil
fuels creates a link between
PRESENT TRANSITION FUTURE today’s fossil-fuel-based
technology and tomorrow’s
Fossil Fuels Solar Fuels solar chemical technology.
(Oil, Coal, Natural Gas) (Hydrogen)

H2O-Splitting Thermochemical Cycles

Source: PSI
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 31
32 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

First phase – The �irst phase lasts until 2015 Second phase – The second phase lasts un-
and is devoted to the pilot demonstration of til 2020 and investigates the most promising
transition processes like solar steam reforming nominally CO2-free thermochemical processes
of NG (SOLREF), solar gasi�ication of petcoke such as the iodine sulfur (IS) cycle, the hybrid
(SYNPET), or solar carbothermal reduction of sulfuric acid cycle (WH), the mixed iron oxide
ZnO (SOLZINC). The further development of cycle (Ferrites), as well as the high temperature
the zero CO2 emission technologies will need steam electrolysis (HTSE) and will be demon-
more time for market introduction. Additional strated at pilot scale. Their chances for success-
work should be dedicated to studying alterna- ful commercialization will then be assessed.
tive processes, which in the long term offer a
high potential but also a high risk of failure.

Figure 30: INNOHYP-CA road-

INNOHYP-CA – roadmap for thermochemical hydrogen production map – An important aspect
is the continuous evalua-
tion and benchmarking of
2004 2007 2010 2013 2016 2019 2022
the processes (marked by
SSMR – Solar Steam Methane Reforming triangles) to avoid time con-
suming dead ends. Since the
Transition processes
Processes Solzinc – Carbothermic ZnO Decomposition Transition solar process prototype
pilot plant -–2015
2015 various solar fuel production
SynPet – Solar Steam Gasification of Petcoke with lower CO2 emissions
technologies under consid-
eration are at diverse stages
IS – Iodine Sulfur Cycle Nuclear & solar IS pilot plants
of maturity, three phases and
Nominal WH – Westinghouse Cycle (Hybrid Sulfur Cycle) Nuclear & solar WH pilot plants a staggered timeframe are
CO 2- CO
2 processes
Processes FeO/Fe2O3 – Ferrite Cycle Solar FeO/Fe2O3 pilot plants proposed for their individual
pilot plant
pilot plant-–2020
2020 HTSE – High Temperature Steam Electrolysis Nuclear & solar HTSE pilot plants

Zn/ZnO – Zinc Oxide Cycle

Alternative CuCl – Copper Chloride Cycle
Free CO2 processes
CO2- Free Processes CeCl – Cerium Chloride Cycle
Hypothetic pilot plant -
hypothetic CeO – Cerium Oxide Cycle
pilot plant – 2025

Figure 31: INNOHYP-CA R&D

INNOHYP-CA – roadmap for R&D infrastructure for massive hydrogen production roadmap – Cross-cutting
actions are proposed to
develop high-temperature
2004 2007 2010 2013 2016 2019 2022
materials and infrastructure
Catalysts – Performances & technologies components. The foundation
of a worldwide alliance of re-
Ceramics for electrolyzer cells – HTSE & hybrid
search facilities is envisaged
GenericMaterials Low cost metallic materials & coatings / corrosion to exploit synergies and to
Support provide access to experi-
SiC family – Corrosion & mechanical behavior mental platforms. The reali-
zation of these far-reaching
SiC family – Shaping & assembling technologies
initiatives can be fostered by
IEA’s SolarPACES, while or-
Heat exchangers (including heat source coupling) ganizations like the IPHE or
the European JTI also work
Generic Components
Chemical components technologies in this direction.
Support Membranes

Electrolyzer technologies (hybrid cycles)

1-10 MW HT solar facilities

dedicated to H2 production
1-10 MW Scale Test 1-10 MW European HT experimental
Facilities 1-10 MW simulated facilities infrastructure
nuclear facilities development Dedicated EU projects Open shared
Experimental & qualification exploitation
European Platform
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 33

R&D needs for solar H2 production (�igure 32) that combines R&D of appropri-
Materials and process R&D – In parallel, a development of the high tempera- ate materials for the proposed chemical reac-
tool box ture technologies for massive H2 production, tor components with adequate manufacturing
the INNOHYP-CA project, proposes a roadmap processes, e.g. shaping, brazing and welding.
Manufacturing for further improving the existing R&D infra- It is imperative to know the limitations of ma-
structure, mainly for the ef�icient use of concen- terials and manufacturing technologies before
Components Materials
trating solar facilities (�igure 31). The roadmap designing and constructing industrial solar
Tool Box R&D also addresses material and component devel- chemical plants (�igure 33). For example, the
opments required for safely and ef�iciently run- size of a single chemical reactor may be limited
ning thermochemical processes for the produc- to less than 50 MWth solar power input, mean-
Process Solar Hydrogen
R&D Production Plants tion of solar fuels, in particular solar H2. ing that a cyclic process coupled to a 500 MWth
Future national and international research pro- solar tower plant would be realized in at least
grams will need to focus on further evaluating ten modular units.
and improving the proposed thermochemical A vital factor is the availability of adequate re-
processes, since adequate technical data and search and test infrastructure for large-scale
Figure 32: Integration of components tool box
information on production cost and GHG emis- solar testing of thermochemical cycles. It is
and process R&D – The components tool box
combines materials and components develop-
sion are still missing. In addition, important indispensable to build such demonstration
ments required for safely and efficiently running cross-cutting actions are required to develop plants in an international context by pooling
thermochemical processes for massive H 2 high-temperature materials and infrastructure R&D budgets to achieve a maximum impact of
production. components. the huge investments. This development proc-
At present, hardly any reliable reactor wall ess can be facilitated by founding strategic al-
materials are available that can withstand the liances of research institutes such as SOLLAB
severe operating conditions of the various so- (Alliance of European Laboratories on Solar
Third phase – The third phase lasts until 2025 lar fuel production processes. For many lower Thermal Concentrating Systems)1 or virtual in-
and will be committed to improving the nomi- temperature processes, e.g. the sulfur based stitutes like vICERP (virtual Institute of Central
nally CO2-free technologies (see second phase), thermochemical cycles, the major problem is Receiver Power Plants).2
as well as the demonstration of alternative CO2- corrosion. For very high temperature metal ox-
free technologies, provided their technical and ide cycles, the challenge is the thermal shock re-
economical feasibility can be shown. Empha- sistance of the materials. As soon as thermally
sis is given to potentially highly ef�icient two- and chemically stable ceramic materials will be
step thermochemical cycles (in particular the available, the next challenge is to manufacture
Zn/ZnO cycle) for solar application, and low complete components that can be safely inte-
temperature thermochemical cycles (like the grated into the solar chemical plants. An exam-
hybrid copper chloride cycle) for nuclear ap- ple is the gas-tight connection of ceramic ma-
plication. terials to metals at temperatures above 900°C.
For this purpose, the INNOHYP-CA project 1 SOLLAB: www.sollab.eu
suggests the creation of a components tool box 2 vICERP http://vicerp.com/

Figure 33: Design concepts

Industrial solar chemical plant for massive hydrogen production – design concepts for large-scale solar tower
plants – a) Example of a
circular heliostat field layout
showing largest distances
of 733 m from central tower
[%] 52
54 and annual efficiencies of
56 each heliostat (color code).
b) Conceptual design of
62 multi-eye tower for multiple
64 solar thermochemical
reactor operation.

a b

Source: DLR
34 Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight

Bright Future for Solar Fuels –


Acknowledgements Solar thermal power plants have paved the way We encourage politicians and policy-makers,
for solar fuels production plants. Similar to con- energy of�icials and regulators, utility compa-
Contributions to this brochure are
centrating solar power (CSP) plants emerging nies, development banks and private investors
extracted in part from the literature
cited below:
as an alternative for large scale power genera- to �irmly support the massive production of
tion, concentrating solar chemical plants will solar fuels – primarily H2 – by taking concrete
Steinfeld A. and Meier A. (2004) presumably become the salient option for sus- steps to enable future infrastructure and mar-
Solar Fuels and Materials. tainable renewable fuels production. ket development without delay.
In Encyclopedia of Energy, Elsevier,
Solar energy is free, abundant and inexhaust- We have only a short time window of opportu-
Vol. 5, 623-637.
ible, but at least two crucial steps are necessary nity to tackle and solve the critical problems of
Steinfeld A. (2005) for a successful market introduction of solar fu- greenhouse gas emission and climate change.
Solar Thermochemical Production els. Firstly, the solar chemical production tech- Solar fuels are part of the solution – they have
of Hydrogen – A Review. nologies must be further developed and prov- the capacity to contribute to the energy sup-
Solar Energy 78, 603-615.
en to be technically feasible and economical. ply and security and to help satisfy the energy
Steinfeld A. (2002)
Secondly, a worldwide consensus on the most needs of the world without destroying it.
Solar H 2 production via a 2-step promising future energy carriers – both renew-
water-splitting thermochemical cycle able electricity and H2 – needs to be reached.
based on Zn/ZnO redox reactions. The arguments in favor of a future hydrogen
Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 27, 611-619.
economy (�igure 34) are excellent, and the po-
litical commitment to move in this direction has
Suggestions for Further Reading been manifested in many initiatives. What is ur-
gently needed now is a clear decision to start
Fletcher, E. A. (2001) the transition from fossil to renewable energies
Solarthermal Processing: A review.
and from gasoline to H2.
J. Solar Energy Engineering 123, 63-74.

Abanades S., Charvin P., Flamant G.,

Figure 34: Benefits of the
Neveu P. (2006)
Hydrogen Economy – beneficial effects hydrogen economy – H2 is a
Screening of water-splitting thermo-
superb fuel for road trans-
chemical cycles potentially attractive for
port, distributed heat and
hydrogen production by concentrated solar
power generation, and
energy, Energy 31, 2469-2486. Hydrogen Economy for energy storage. It is
widely considered to have
Ecology Economy Policy a strong potential for use
Energy diversity Energy security Energy acceptance in future energy systems,
Environmental viability Economic competitiveness Public awareness
meeting climate change,
Clean technology Market & job opportunities Social integration
air quality, resource
use goals, and securing
Source: DLR and PSI energy supply.
Solar Fuels from Concentrated Sunlight 35
Solar Power and Chemical Energy Systems
Implementing Agreement of the
International Energy Agency

IEA SolarPACES Implementing Agreement

Plataforma Solar de Almería Authors

Apartado 39 Dr. Anton Meier (PSI)
04200 Tabernas Dr. Christian Sattler (DLR)
Design and layout
Tel: +34 950 27 14 86 Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI), Switzerland
Fax: +34 950 36 53 13
E-mail: christoph.richter@dlr.de Print
Internet: http://www.solarpaces.org Burger Druck GmbH, Germany

Chairman: Dr. Thomas Mancini Copyright

Executive Secretary: Dr. Christoph Richter SolarPACES, August 2009