Concept & Methodology
Fossil-Carbon (fossil-C) sources, such as coal, crude oil, and natural gas converted into electric and thermal energy, currently meet 80.2% of the world’s energy demand. Their use in the transport and industrial production sectors accounts for 40% of GHG emissions. However, energy demand is projected to increase further to meet global needs, even though fossil-C is finite. For these reasons, the continuous use of fossil fuels is not only unsustainable but also untenable, given the common goal to keep global warming well below 2°C, as set out in the Paris Agreement and more recently confirmed in the Glasgow Climate Pact, COP26.
Biomass-derived renewable fuels, conversely, reduce GHGs net emissions into the atmosphere, but their contribution remains limited. Furthermore, fossil-C-free electricity-derived (E-fuels, produced by reducing CO2 with photovoltaic (PV) hydrogen-H2) and solar (SFs, produced via solar-driven CO2 and water conversion) fuels drastically reduce GHG emissions and implement a man-made carbon cycle that complements the natural carbon cycle, thereby deploying circular economy. In addition to their environmental benefits, SFs enhance energy security (H2 is not produced, stored, transported, or used) and provide opportunities for economic development across the globe. Sunlight, CO2 , and water are ubiquitous. Transitioning to new solar-based technologies can therefore greatly benefit developing economies and countries poor in fossil-C sources, but despite such calls to action, the production of ‘clean fuels from sunlight’ remains at an early stage of technological development.
At present, significant improvement in the photocatalysts and reactor technology is required for solar fuels’ production to become technically feasible, scalable, affordable, secure, sustainable, and efficient.
DESIRED is a high-risk high-return project, focused on establishing the technological feasibility and sustainability of a novel fuel production system – the DESIRED system – for direct coprocessing of, possibly atmospheric, CO2 and water to produce multi-carbon (C2+) energy-rich products using sunlight as a primary energy source.
The DESIRED system will produce C2+ solar fuels (without overlooking C1 species, such as methanol or methane) by direct coprocessing of CO2 and water using novel and recyclable hybrid photo-electrocatalysts, supported on frustules or zeolites, in an innovative photoreactor design. With regards to applications, DESIRED will focus on products, that, by 2050, would be used per se or as intermediates to produce drop-in fuels for sectors where the direct shift to batteries or H2 is not a technical and cost-efficient option (e.g., aviation). Knowledge of the economic affordability, environmental benefits, and social acceptability of this approach will be investigated. DESIRED promotes an interdisciplinary approach to research and innovation undertaken by a consortium of 7 European partners and complemented by cross-cutting activities including modelling, process simulation, sustainability, and techno-economic assessment as well as impactful dissemination, communication, capacity-building and exploitation activities that support the exchange of knowledge across and beyond the consortium and project.