Sustainable fuels and base chemicals for Switzerland

Switzerland and Oman are pulling together: The Omani Ambassador to Switzerland,
Switzerland and Oman are pulling together: The Omani Ambassador to Switzerland, H.E. Mahmood Al Hassani (right), presents Empa researcher Christian Bach (left) with a Letter of Interest for cooperation in the reFuel.ch project. Image: Empa
Developing robust supply paths for sustainable fuels and base chemicals for Switzerland is the aim of the reFuel.ch consortium funded by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFoe), which held its kick-off event on 8 December 2023. The consortium comprises nine Swiss universities and research institutes from various disciplines as well as an industrial partner. As the clock is ticking for climate-friendly solutions, political decision-makers will also be involved.

A Memorandum of Understanding on sustainable energy and energy technologies was signed during the visit of Swiss President Alain Berset to Oman, and Empa researcher Christian Bach, the co-coordinator of reFuel.ch, received a corresponding Letter of Interest from the Omani Ambassador to Switzerland, H.E. Mahmood Al Hassani, for future collaboration; the reFuel.ch consortium thus came into being at just the right time. Although these are only the first steps on the long road to supplying Switzerland with sustainabe fuels and base chemicals, they demonstrate the international dimension of reFuel.ch, which brings together more than 60 project partners along the entire value chain.

The signing has already been followed by the first concrete steps. For example, a reFuel.ch delegation of 15 industry and research representatives will be travelling to Oman in December to hold talks with the Omani Ministry of Energy and Minerals on the sidelines of the Green Hydrogen Summit there. The talks will focus on the development of approaches for the production of sustainable energy sources and base chemicals as well as regulatory and market solutions.

Another - European - case study will soon be launched in southern Spain. At the same time, the efficiency and therefore also the costs of currently available processes for the production of sustainable energy sources are to be significantly improved. As a center of research and technology, Switzerland can make an important contribution to solving the global climate problem.

The SFoe-funded consortium is investigating how fossil fuels can be replaced by sustainable energy sources, for example in aviation and industrial processes. The majority of these will come from abroad. Countries in the Earth’s Sun Belt could play an important role here. Accordingly, the researchers will be looking closely at foreign production, regulatory and legal framework conditions and the issue of dependency. In order for Switzerland to meet its demand for sustainable fuels and base chemicals amounting to 30 to 60 terawatt hours (approx. 3 to 6 billion liters of diesel equivalent), it needs a PV area of 200 to 400 km2 on site, which is slightly less than the area of Lake Constance. Two to three times more electricity can be generated per square meter of PV area in the Sun Belt than in Switzerland. In future, the electricity thus generated will be the energy basis for the production of sustainable fuels and base chemicals.

Within Switzerland, the consortium is focusing on the increased energetic use of farmyard manure (especially slurry) in the form of gaseous or liquid energy carriers and on increasing the efficiency of production processes for synthetic fuels.