UPDATED 1 Sept: The EI library in London is temporarily closed to the public, as a precautionary measure in light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The Knowledge Service will still be answering email queries via email , or via live chats during working hours (09:15-17:00 GMT). Our e-library is always open for members here: eLibrary , for full-text access to over 200 e-books and millions of articles. Thank you for your patience.
magazine logo
magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

The DAWN of solar fuels


Illustration of the Synhelion solar tower and heliostat field Photo: Synhelion
The DAWN industrial scale solar fuel plant will comprise a 20-metre-high solar tower and a heliostat field with a mirror surface of 1,500 m2

Photo: Synhelion

Synhelion has started construction work on DAWN – claimed to be the world’s first industrial plant to produce synthetic fuels using solar heat.

Located in Jülich, Germany, the facility will be the first to demonstrate the entire ‘sun-to-liquid’ process on an industrial scale, from concentrating sunlight to producing synthetic liquid fuel. Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) will be the first airline to fly using the CO2-neutral solar kerosene produced there.

Synhelion is a spin-off of ETH Zurich. Powering the production process exclusively by solar heat – and without the use of electricity – was first demonstrated in 2019 in a mini-refinery on the roof of ETH Zurich. Since then, Synhelion has been focusing on scaling up the technology and making it industrially viable. Just weeks ago, the last major technological milestone for the industrial production of solar fuels was reached with the production of solar syngas on an industrial scale.

DAWN will be the first industrial-scale plant to use all the innovations developed by Synhelion. The demonstration plant, due to be commissioned in 2023, will also serve as a model for future commercial facilities. Synhelion plans to commission the first commercial solar fuel plant in Spain by 2025.

The DAWN plant consists of a 20-metre-high solar tower and a heliostat field with a mirror surface of 1,500 m2. The precise control technology of the heliostat field, developed by Synhelion, guarantees optimal use of land resources and building materials. The solar tower houses three innovations developed by the company – a solar receiver, a thermochemical reactor and thermal energy storage that enables cost-efficient operation around the clock.

The industrial demonstration plant will produce several thousand litres of fuel per year. The fuels produced (solar kerosene and gasoline) will be used to demonstrate various possible uses.

If the same plant were built in a particularly sunny location and operated around the clock, it could produce about 150,000 l/y of fuel, claims Synhelion. Future planned plants will exceed the size of DAWN and offer a significantly higher production capacity.

Project partners include the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Solar Institute Jülich of Aachen University of Applied Sciences, while the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) has provided €3.92mn ($3.2mn) of funding support. In the long term, the DAWN facility will be mainly used for research and development purposes.

Patrick Hilger, Managing Director of Synhelion Germany comments: ‘The [DAWN] plant will demonstrate that solar fuels are not just a theoretical construct but will soon actively contribute to decarbonising aviation and long-distance transportation.’


Dr Gianluca Ambrosetti, CEO and Co-Founder of Synhelion adds: ‘Our goal is to reach a production capacity of 875mn l/y of fuel in future commercial plants by 2030.’