We’ve been keeping our eye on the SOLAR-JET project, which started in 2011. It’s a collaboration of European industry, government, and academic partners that, back in April, produced the world’s first “solar” jet fuel.

We here at SOFI couldn’t be more excited about this development, and will continue to watch as the team refines the process and works toward scalability.

The team developed a solar reactor which uses concentrated sunlight to convert CO2 and water into synthetic gas (syngas). The reactor technology maximizes energy conversion efficiency through increased radiative heat transfer and fast reaction kinetics. The resulting syngas is processed into kerosene using Fischer-Tropsch technology, which is already used commercially by companies at a global scale.

What’s so exciting about the SOLAR-JET project is that this breakthrough was accomplished by an international team of researchers representing industry, government and academia. Partners include ETH Zurich, Shell Global Solutions International, and DLR, a German aeronautics and space research center. This kind of partnership is exactly what we at SOFI love to see. It’s compelling proof that progress in solar fuels technology – any renewable energy technology, really – is dependent on a willingness to collaborate across disciplines, and across borders.

Another critical component in the success of this project was the EU’s financial support. The government approved four years of funding for SOLAR-JET. For long-term, capital-intensive research like this, government participation is critical, as few investors are willing to take such risks with their money. But the potential payoff, both financially and environmentally, is enormous. “This technology means we might one day produce cleaner and plentiful fuel for planes, cars and other forms of transport,” said Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation, and Science, in a press release. “This could greatly increase energy security and turn one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming into a useful resource.”

This solar reactor is in an early stage of development. The next steps will be improving and refining the reactor, and testing the scalability of the process. The new energy future is going to take time, and lots of it. But, as they say, good things come to those who wait. And, I would add, good things come to those who research, experiment, persevere, take risks, and dream.