Swiss on track to be the first airline to use solar fuel

Swiss are to become the first airline in the world to power planes by “liquid sunlight.”

The airline, which is owned by Lufthansa Group, has struck a deal with Synhelion, a company that uses solar energy to convert CO2 into a synthetic fuel called syngas.

Swiss-based Synhelion, which is a spinoff from the Swiss Institute of Technology, has mastered a way of manufacturing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) from renewable energy sources.

And the move, the airline says, is the first step towards making the aviation industry more sustainable through carbon-neutral, fossil-free flying.

But what is syngas?

Syngas is a liquid fuel with the same properties as fossil fuels, but it is produced artificially. The genius of it is that they contain less impurities than fossil fuels which means that they emit less noxious gases when they burn.

And its manufacturers say it can be used as a replacement fuel in almost all types of transportation, including ships, trucks, planes and cars.

And crucially, it produces only as much carbon dioxide as went into manufacturing it, helping to cut aviation emissions.

How is it made?

In short, it is a mixture of unimaginably high heat, steam and carbon dioxide.

Synhelion is currently building a vast “mirror field” in Germany. Those mirrors reflect the sun’s rays into a receiver that converts the light into heat. That heat is then transmitted into a thermochemical reactor that heats steam and CO2 to around 1,500C until a new liquid forms. That liquid is syngas.

For a more detailed explanation of the process, check out Synhelion’s website.

When will Swiss actually fly on syngas?

Synhelion is set to build its first facility for the industrial production of syngas in Germany’s Julich this year, according to the company’s statement.

And the first batch of solar kerosene will be ready for use in 2023.

“Our team-up with Synhelion is founded on our shared vision to make carbon-neutral flying in regular flight operations possible through the use of solar fuel,” said Swiss CEO Dieter Vranckx. “Our involvement with Synhelion is a key element in our long-term sustainability strategy.”

Philipp Furler, Synhelion’s co-founder and CEO, added: “We believe in a globalized world connected by climate-friendly mobility. Our next-generation carbon-neutral solar kerosene is an economically and ecologically viable substitute for fossil fuels.”

Featured image via Airbus.

*This article was originally written by Matt Blake for