National platforms and R&I projects/initiatives including initiatives with which SUNER-C partners are connected to (e.g., CATLAB in Germany; MOONSHOT in Belgium; Missie H2 in The Netherlands; SMARTNESS – Solar- driven chemistry in Italy);
EU platforms and partnerships, including: Processes4Planet, Clean Energy Transition, Clean Hydrogen, the European Chemical Industry Council, European Cluster on Catalysis, European Raw Materials Alliance;
Policy/decision makers at different levels: local (e.g., municipalities), regional, national (including national governments, funding agencies, unions and cooperative societies, etc.), European (European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the EU);
International organisations and leading international initiatives including: Mission Innovation, International Energy Agency (IEA), the Liquid Sunlight Alliance (US), US Department of Energy, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, sister organisations of CO2 Value Europe at global level;
Media, targeted as channels to reach out to the “general” public.
Definitions of Technology-related competencies
Renewable energy technologies. Current solar energy technologies include photovoltaics, CSP, and solar thermal technologies. Development of technologies for the production of sustainable fuels and chemicals will benefit from synergies with this sector and the wind energy technologies, as well as hydropower and other renewable energy technologies. This includes production, deployment of an operation of systems and components.
Carbon Capture and Utilization. Capture of carbon dioxide from flue gas or ambient air is the first step in the cycle of carbon dioxide conversion to fuels and chemicals. Current prospects for direct air capture would result in large energy losses for the CO2 capture and concentration. SUNER-C aims to drastically reduce those energy losses by novel concepts. By direct coupling of CO2 capture to catalysis, optimally matching the CO2 flow and photocatalytic reactions, thermodynamic losses can be minimized. This requires more research on new concepts. CO2 capture from point sources, such as industrial emissions, can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of major industrial sectors. The competences of many stakeholders are needed for the transition to a circular and CO2 neutral economy.
Electrochemistry. Electrochemistry is essential for electrocatalytic fuel formation, and for their use in fuel cells. It is needed to guide design of materials, devices and systems. Relevant competence is also available in the battery research and industry
Light-driven processes and reactions. This competence area includes the related but distinct fields of photophysics, photochemistry, natural photosynthesis, photocatalysis and photoelectrochemistry. They provide fundamental scientific knowledge of electronically excited states, charge separation and quantum behaviour in natural photosynthesis, molecules, microorganisms semiconductors, nanoscale and mesoporous systems. This is needed for synthesis and design of molecules, materials and devices, as well as for advanced characterization by experimental and theoretical methods.
Enzymology, Photoenzymology and biohybrid engineering. Of course, nature provides some of the most efficient and sustainable catalyst, e., enzymes. Enzymes and enzymatic photoconversion cascades are investigated to replace inert expensive metals such as platinum in electrochemical and PEC systems. Biohybrid technology, where biological molecules are used in e.g. electrocatalytic devices, is a possible route to reduce cost and increase profit for the generation of hydrogen, ammonia, and manufacturing of hydrocarbons by carbon capture and utilization. The critical hurdle for biotic systems is their robustness over time, and scientific and technical understanding of enzymatic reactions and processes are needed to design, evaluate and develop new conversion cascades and perform microengineering of reactors combining biotic with abiotic components that fulfil requirements of performance, durability and scalability.
Genetic and metabolic engineering of microorganisms; synthetic biology, biotechnology. Genetic and metabolic approaches are widely used today to re-design microorganisms for efficient production of targeted solar fuels and chemicals. Synthetic metabolic pathways can be inserted into microorganisms to allow for production of the fuel or chemical of choice. Biotechology methods are enablers of this development.
Bioprocess Engineering, (Photo)Bioreactors and microbial cultivation. Bioreactor and photobioreactor competence, and competence in cultivation of photosynthetic microorganisms, is needed for design and operation of large-scale production of solar fuels and solar chemicals. The competence is valuable for photoreactor design, also with non-biological approaches.
Synthesis and characterization of molecules and materials. Preparation of materials and components is an obvious need for the development of solar fuels and chemicals.
Chemical catalysis, homogeneous, heterogeneous and plasma. Solar fuels and chemicals from small molecules such as water and carbon dioxide require good catalysts that operate at high rate and selectivity, to form pure products at minimum energy cost. In this regard, plasma approaches, also including plasma catalysis, which is considered an emerging branch of plasma processing; a highly versatile technique that can provide highly specialized materials such as semiconductors and nanostructures at mild conditions and also several specialty chemicals, should also be considered. Scientific and technical understanding of catalytic reactions and processes are needed to design, evaluate and develop new catalysts that fulfil requirements of performance, durability and scalability.
Gas separation technologies and membranes. Advances on these topics are essential as most design concepts for gaseous solar fuel formation include a membrane for separation of product gases, e.g. hydrogen or syngas from oxygen. At the same time, the membrane should allow for rapid proton transport from anode to cathode.
Chemical, Materials and Process Engineering. For production of components and modules for the SUNER-C technology systems, as well as for the handling of products, engineering is required.
Definitions of Infrastructure-related competencies
Renewable Energy systems (RE systems). When consumers and industries produce and exchange solar fuels and solar chemicals, new energy distribution systems and regulations have to be developed and put into place. To optimally integrate the use of renewables into existing networks, smart grids technology needs to be developed further, supported by information technology, policy regulations and market instruments.
Construction and Architecture. Large-scale deployment of solar technologies will need the competence of construction companies. Including new technology starts at the drawing board.
Recycling and circular processes. This includes the activities and actions required to reuse product materials and manage waste streams in a circular manner, including the collection, transport, sorting, re-use and recycling of waste, supported by circular policy regulations and circular business models.
Fuels & Chemicals Transport, Storage and distribution. This includes handling, storage and transportation of gaseous and liquid products from solar fuels and chemicals technologies, with different modalities including heavy-duty vehicles, pipelines and ships. The infrastructure should be adapted for both small scale production of solar fuels on e.g. house roofs as well as for large scale production of jet fuels.
Device and system engineering and Process Intensification. Devices, processes, and systems need to be optimized based on lab scale Proof-of-Concepts to lab-scale demos for making fuel from CO2 and sunlight on a house roof. In parallel, large-scale Proof-of-Concepts will be obtained for running pilot production of jet fuel and further scale up at industrial sites. This includes computational design of devices considering e.g. fluid dynamics, heat management etc. as well as building hardware. Regarding process intensification, this term includes key engineering actions that render a manufacturing or processing design substantially improved in terms of energy efficiency, cost-effectiveness, or enhancement of other qualities. Downstream processing for separation of product mixes, the improvement of the purity of the final product(s), could also be included herein, to be accomplished through a series of unit operations used to isolate, purify, and concentrate the product(s).
Water and air management. This is focused on the processes of chemically scrubbing carbon dioxide from industrial exhaust gasses, directly from ambient air, or from seawater. In addition, water is needed for water-splitting reactions of large-scale solar fuels technology, and the quality of water needs to be matched to the technological requirements. To achieve this in an efficient and economically viable manner, expertise is needed on emission detection technologies and the removal of contaminants from exhaust gas flows and the maritime environment.
Definitions of Cross-cutting competencies
Environmental and techno-economic analyses. Analysis of climate and other environmental impacts, as well as sustainability, is vital for development and implementation of energy technologies. LCA is a standard tool to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life-cycle of a commercial product, process, or service. Life Cycle Energy Assessment (LCEA) is important to estimate the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI). For emerging technologies, it is important to develop predictive LCA together with techno-economic analyses as well as social aspects such as assessing public acceptance.
Computing. Several approaches are included herein, being applicable to many of the technologies and infrastructure-related competencies. Including: (i) Multiscale modelling: Solar fuels devices and systems need to integrate processes occurring on many different time- and length scales, from femtoseconds to days and from the nano- and mesoscale to at least several meters. Substrates and products in liquid and/or gaseous form need to be provided, transported and collected; electrons and protons need to be transferred, and transported, concentration gradients handled, etc. Multi-scale simulations are vital for the design and analysis on both the device and the systems level, and an engineering theory for the bottom-up design of modular device concepts is urgently needed. (ii) Informatics, AI. Bioinformatics is an important tool for understanding biological data. It can be used e.g. in the analysis of gene and protein expression and regulation, or to optimize metabolic pathways. Informatics, machine learning and Artificial intelligence (AI) will become more important in the near future also for e.g. materials discovery.
Legislation, policy, financing, start-up support. Apart from a large-scale research initiative, additional actions need to be implemented such as leveraging research and innovation funding from both the private sector as well as MS/AC investments. At present, EU RTD schemes do rarely go beyond the demonstration stage. For subsequent innovation steps, the much higher efficiency of the private sector compared to academia and research institutions is essential to nurture rapid progress. However, ambitious investments need to be financed if they are to be successful, and the supply of the enormous financial resources that are required upfront by the private R&D stakeholders in small scale financing operations is unrealistic. The only sector of the financial system that has in principle the capacity to finance an energy innovation effort is the global bond market. While this is globally the biggest source of capital, bonds are low yield, low risk financial instruments. To finance high risk innovation trajectories with green bonds, the EU and member state governments can implement de-risking mechanisms were the state backs the risk to release the necessary financial resources on the required scale.
Standardization & Labelling. Tasks to identify standardized protocols and experiments to promote comparison between results and define common reliable KPIs are key, as well as enable more effective ways for data sharing.
Innovation & entrepreneurship. Capacities to introduce new business models, products, ideas, or services in the market, as well as all the development of risks and responsibilities for bringing new technologies and ideas to market and building a successful business are crucial to establish a new energy market with a share for sustainable fuels and chemicals.
Dissemination and communication. Good communication with stakeholders, the broader scientific community, policy makers and the civil society needs a clear strategy and good coordination among communication and dissemination of related/initiated projects.
Education and outreach. Every partner involved has to support a strong outreach and educational plan – also involving interaction with social sciences and humanities – in order to promote the SUNER-C technologies at all level of the educational system, i.e. all the way from elementary school to universities, as well as to involve the society at large and mass media professionals in particular.
Public & end-user engagement. New energy technologies need public acceptance for large-scale implementation. The solar fuels and chemicals technologies imply wide deployment of light harvesting infrastructures and new industrial facilities for production and distribution of fuels and chemicals, along with conversion of existing petrochemical facilities. Availability of raw materials for the new processes and facilities also needs to be carefully addressed. An industrial transformation of this size inevitably implies social and economic impact on a large scale. In case of success, such changes will be strongly beneficial for society, but this is not immediately obvious to citizens! Therefore, a substantial amount of human and financial resources needs to be mobilized to promote scientifically-grounded information on the vast industrial transformation. For deployment of SUNER-C technologies and products, companies that are willing to drive innovation in this area today are key partners (fertilizers, transport sector, chemical sector, etc.).