Power-to-x demo unit

A taste of a carbon-neutral energy future

6 min read

29 Sep 2021

Text

Thomas Freundlich

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Wärtsilä

6 min read

29 Sep 2021

Text:

Thomas Freundlich

Photo:

Wärtsilä

What’s the connection between tasty coffee, clear thinking, and carbon dioxide? Visitors of Expo 2020 Dubai will have a chance to find out - and taste the outcome of it in real life.

Wärtsilä and innovative start-ups Soletair Power and Q Power have joined forces to demonstrate this connection through carbon-neutral fuel production at the Finnish pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai, which will be held from October 2021 to March 2022 in the United Arab Emirates. Guests will see how synthetic renewable fuel is produced from the air and is used to brew coffee, while at the same time, improving the interior air quality of the building. All this is done without using fossil gas or oil reserves, showcasing a renewable energy future is possible already today. This demonstration of Power-to-X (P2X) technology is a perfect match with the target of the exposition – to be a global gathering of brilliant minds and innovative companies coming together to imagine a new kind of world and a more sustainable future.

Power-to-X is one of the most interesting energy technologies of recent years, and a rapidly growing market opportunity in the global energy transition. In Power-to-X, hydrogen is synthesised with carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from air to produce renewable synthetic fuels. In the near future and even today, these can replace fossil fuels in many areas, for instance in electricity grids providing important balancing services and in the transportation sector. These sustainable fuels will be the key to enabling and accelerating decarbonised societies at the final stage of achieving a 100% renewable energy future. 

Finnish innovations in Power-to-X

Soletair Power is a Finland-based Power-to-X company that has developed a unique concept to improve air quality in buildings by capturing CO2 utilising direct air capture technology and converting it to synthetic renewable fuel. In 2019, Wärtsilä provided Soletair Power with EUR 500,000 in seed funding to help support the development and commercialisation of their technology, followed by an additional investment of 1 MEUR in 2021. 

Wärtsilä's collaboration with Soletair Power ties in directly with Wärtsilä's vision of a 100% renewable energy future, in which most of the energy we use will be produced by solar and wind power. However, as these forms of electricity generation are weather dependent and intermittent in nature, excess electricity needs to be stored or used as a raw material to produce carbon-neutral, synthetic fuels – and this is where Power-to-X comes in.

The demonstration unit purchased by Wärtsilä combines Soletair Power's solution with a patented biomethanisation process from Q Power, another innovative Finnish start-up, which creates synthetic methane from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The methane is then used to power a coffee machine integrated into the demonstration unit – literally giving Expo 2020 Dubai visitors a taste of a carbon-neutral energy future.

Change is brewing

The demonstration unit was already built by Soletair Power in the summer of 2020, but the Expo 2020 Dubai event was postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the exposition aims to attract 25 million visits, bringing high visibility to the new concepts and the possibilities of future fuels. Approximately half the size of a shipping container, the demonstration unit works by capturing CO2 from the interior air of the Finnish pavilion, which is then combined with hydrogen extracted from water through electrolysis, to create synthetic methane with Q Power's technology.

On the left of the demonstration unit is a video screen that provides information on the unit as well as why Power-to-X is needed on a societal scale. The right-hand module incorporates the CO2 capture system as well as the coffee machine for visitors. The middle module houses the hydrogen electrolysis system, and the biomethanisation system is located on the left.  

Soletair Power's technology, which extracts CO2 from building ventilations and converts it to fuel, is a revolutionary concept that opens up completely new business models. Some recent experiments have linked high indoor CO2 concentrations to reduced cognitive performance, so removing excess CO2 from workplace air can literally help us think clearer. The solution is expected to have a significant market potential once companies understand the benefits of reduced CO2 indoors.

"The unit that we are showcasing at Expo 2020 Dubai is intentionally a very small-scale implementation of the concept," says Petri Laakso, CEO and Partner, Soletair Power. "However, it's a concrete demonstration of a technology that might sound futuristic but is already available today. When powered by renewable energy, the system demonstrates a fuel manufacturing process that is in principle totally carbon-neutral. Carbon capture technology not only improves interior air quality in buildings, but also enables carbon-neutral production of future fuels using renewable electricity, thus offering a straightforward way to replace fossil fuels and mitigate climate change."

From science fiction to everyday use

Power-to-X (P2X) is a rapidly growing technical field that has emerged in the last few years, and it is set to transform the way we generate, store and use energy across the globe. Bringing together innovative start-ups with leading industrial companies such as Wärtsilä, P2X can decarbonise industry, transportation and the energy sector - all while utilising existing infrastructures. With the rapid advances that are currently being made, solutions that seem like science fiction today are likely to be in widespread use by 2030. 

"Expo 2020 Dubai is a great place for us to demonstrate Wärtsilä's leadership on the path towards a 100% renewable energy future," says Tommi Rintamäki, Senior Manager, Power-to-X, Wärtsilä Energy. "We are well on the way in developing our offering of carbon-neutral future fuel solutions and are looking to extend them into wider business opportunities."

Subsequent to the demonstration project that was carried out with Wärtsilä, Soletair Power has already secured the first commercial deals for its carbon extraction technology. "At the moment, we are focusing particularly on how carbon capture can help improve the air quality in buildings, but we are also open to exploring the P2X and future fuels space," says Petri Laakso.

Leading the way to the hydrogen economy

Power-to-X technologies are also at the core of the new hydrogen economy that is expected to transform the global energy landscape over the coming decades. P2X can be used to produce green hydrogen, as well as synthetic methane, methanol, ammonia, kerosene, gasoline, and diesel. These are easier to store than pure hydrogen and can be handled and used by the current energy infrastructure, or used as raw material for other chemical and industrial processes or future fuels production. When powered by renewable energy, the fuels produced with P2X are 100% carbon-neutral, as they recycle carbon emissions from the air and do not emit any new carbon into the atmosphere.

In future renewable energy systems, hydrogen and other sustainable fuels can replace, for example, gasoline as a transport fuel or natural gas as fuel for power generation. The hydrogen economy will stimulate economic growth and create new jobs as new carbon-neutral fuels – including hydrogen – start to replace fossil fuels.

"From carbon capture to the hydrogen economy and other future fuels, the common factor that bridges all these solutions is carbon-neutrality," notes Rintamäki. "Moving towards carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative energy technology is one of the most important steps we can take towards tackling climate change, and we are already offering our customers a wide range of services to help decarbonise their operations."