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Volkswagen AG coordinating new €6M EU research project on drop-in biocatalytic solar fuels

Volkswagen AG is coordinating a new €6-million (US$6.7-million) research project, selected for funding under the Horizon 2020 Programme, to advance the biocatalytic production of drop-in liquid hydrocarbon transportation fuels, requiring only sunlight, CO2 and water.

The basic approach of the new 4-year Photofuel project is to develop and to advance microbes (the biocatalysts) that will directly excrete hydrocarbon and long-chain alcohol fuel compounds to the growth medium, from which the fuels are separated, without the need to harvest biomass. This basic concept is in line with the fundamental approach (CO2 + water + renewable energy → drop-in fuels) being taken by Audi (a member of the Volkswagen Group) in its e-fuels initiatives. (Earlier post.)

(Audi already has some background in the Photofuel domain through its partnership with Joule for the direct production of e-ethanol and e-diesel hydrocarbons (n-alkanes) from photosynthetic cyanobacteria.)

The biocatalytic approach would significantly improve the costs and energy balances of the production of drop-in renewable fuels, as only a minimum of nutrients is required for self-replication of the biocatalyst, while cell harvesting, drying and lipid extraction is omitted.

Horizon 2020
Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs)
TRL 1 Basic principles observed
TRL 2 Technology concept formulated
TRL 3 Experimental proof of concept
TRL 4 Technology validated in lab
TRL 5 Technology validated in relevant environment
TRL 6 Technology demonstrated in relevant environment
TRL 7 System prototype demonstration in operational environment
TRL 8 System complete and qualified
TRL 9 Actual system proven in operational environment

Such minimum-input systems are compatible with operation on degraded or desert land, thereby avoiding the pitfalls of most of the currently available biofuel technologies.

To set a benchmark for alternative solar fuels, three research groups in Photofuel will collaborate in the advancement of the biocatalysts from TRL 3 (experimental proof of concept). The best biocatalytic system(s) will then be up-scaled and operated outdoors in photobioreactors modified for direct fuel separation at a scale of several cubic meters (TRL 4-5; technology validated in lab-technology validated in relevant environment).

The identification of optimal future fuel blends with a fossil fuel base and Photofuel biofuels as additives, as well as the analysis of performance and emissions in car or truck engines, will be evaluated by the oil- and automotive-industry partners.

The entire pathway will be assessed for environmental and economic performance as well as social acceptance of large scale production in rural communities and by the consumer. All results will be combined to a business development plan, which clearly identifies the opportunities but also the challenges prior to an economic fuel production in compliance to the EC Fuel Quality Directive.

In addition to the Volkswagen Group, participants in Photofuel include:

  • Uppsala Universitets, Sweden
  • Universität Bielefeld, Germany
  • Imperial College Of Science Technology and Medicine, UK
  • Universita Degli Studi Di Firenze, Italy
  • A4F Algafuel SA, Portugal
  • IFP Energies nouvelles, France
  • Neste Oil Corporation, Finland
  • Karlsruher Institut für Technologie, Germany
  • Centro Ricerche Fiat SCPA, Italy
  • Volvo Technology AB, Sweden
  • Syncom Forschungs- und Entwicklungsberatung GmbH, Germany



I really hope that some day I will be able to buy gasoline synthetic or not that cost less .


That day will finally come when hell freezes over.


Or when the North Pole boils over...

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