ETH Zurich solar syngas spinout Synhelion raises $23.7 million

Synhelion is commercialising a solar radiation technology to produce syngas that reaches temperatures of above 1,500°C. [photo of Synhelion's cement solar syngas installation]
ETH Zurich solar syngas spinout Synhelion raises $23.7 million

Switzerland-based Synhelion has received 22 million Swiss francs ($23.7 million US) to scale up its solar-powered industrial energy platform, which uses solar radiation to produce synthesis gas to help decarbonise heavy industrial lines.

That decarbonisation potential has allowed Synhelion to secure strategic support from corporate investors, no doubt mindful of the possible net zero gains in construction in the next three decades.

Having raised $22 million before this latest fundraise, Synhelion's investor backing includes the Italian energy giant Eni and Mexican cement producer CEMEX's CVC, as well as SMS Group, a metals supplier to industrial construction projects, automotive equipment maker AMAG and national air carrier SWISS.

This round's being backed by CEMEX Ventures, the CEMEX CVC, along with some new and existing strategic investors, left undefined by Synhelion's formal announcement.

Synthesis gas is created by blending hydrogen, carbon monoxide and CO2. Most often it is produced from waste biomass, like food discards and animal byproducts.

Synhelion's innovation would produce syngas from solar energy instead. Since spinning off from ETH Zurich in 2016, the company has delivered on its core technology and expects to start making syngas from its Germany-located pilot facility in 2023.

Construction at the German facility started in September. Following the test launch, Synhelion will spend some 24 months proving up its approach, which generates process heat above 1,500°C using solar radiation. 

Its first commercial-grade facility is being developed in Spain, with launch due in 2025.

The use of syngas allows heavy industrial users to decarbonise production chains by mixing the fuel with ordinary fossil-derived equivalents like natural gas or replacing ordinary fuels in existing machinery.

This past February, Synhelion says it achieved a "breakthrough" in using the solar energy system to fuel CEMEX's cement production lines. This implementation replaced a cement input known as clinker, a solid grey nodule produced using a mixture of limestone and clay, which is sintered in blistering hot, rolling cement kilns.

Cement kilns burn off plenty of CO2. By some estimates they create 2.5% of the world's man-made CO2 emissions, the cement industry as a whole is thought to produce around 5%.

Synhelion claims the CEMEX solar pilot is the first time a clinker rotary kiln has been powered by the sun, the kiln having reached temperatures of almost 1,500°C. As well as CEMEX and its other CVC investors, Synhelion also has partnerships with the German airline Lufthansa and Zurich's airport.

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