SUNRISE: Solar energy for a circular economy
In 2016, the European Commission launched a public consultation aimed at identifying great research ideas that could lead to new technologies when funded within a Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship programme. FET Flagships are science-driven, large-scale, multidisciplinary research initiatives built around an ambitious unifying vision. They tackle grand S&T challenges requiring cooperation among a range of disciplines, communities and programmes, including both academia and industry. They are designed by inception with the aim to convert scientific advances into technology developments, enabling concrete innovations that benefit Europe's society and economy. Their overarching nature and magnitude implies that they can only be realized through a federated and sustained effort, in the order of 10 years duration and a substantial amount of public and private funding.

SUNRISE is one of the candidates for such a future European FET Flagship and evaluations have recently started. The SUNRISE proposal has been worked out by a small consortium of high-ranking universities (University of Leiden, Imperial College, University of Uppsala, University of Warsaw, University of Turku), large research and technology organizations (Fraunhofer, CEA, CNR, Czech Academy of Sciences, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Empa, IMDEA, ) and industry (Siemens, Johnson Matthey PLC, EMIRI). It already gained the support of various stakeholders all over Europe.

With your support, you help to bring forward the great public interest in the SUNRISE vision: the sustainable production of fuels and commodity chemicals at affordable costs of materials and Earth surface using solar energy.

Today's Challenges
With the Paris climate agreement, the European member states engaged to mitigate global warming and to play a leading role in the fight against climate change. The necessary reduction of CO2 emissions implies profound societal changes and technological breakthroughs. The Energy Union is a big step to establish a sustainable, low-carbon and climate-friendly economy and offers an exquisite opportunity for the modernization of Europe's entire economy.
In the decade since the 2007 Strategic Energy Technology Plan, the production of renewable energy continued its steady growth in Europe. Storing efficiently and reliably surplus electric energy is one of today's top challenges. For the foreseeable future, we will also depend on fuels with high energy density for air and road transport, and for heavy industries, such as steel manufacturing. Storage processes converting electricity and sunlight into chemical energy would be highly desirable.
Chemicals are essential in everyday life. Fertilizers ensure food security, pharmaceuticals are indispensable for public health and fuels literally drive our society forward. They are produced by the chemical industry, which is an essential pillar of the European economy and generates nearly 20% of the global turnover of the sector. Through innovative compounds and materials, the chemical industry directly contributes to reducing European energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions. However, it remains a heavy user of fossil fuels as energy source and as the main raw materials for a variety of chemical products.
A replacement of fossil-based raw materials and a modernization of the production processes are crucial for Europe's vision of a zero-emission society and the global competitiveness of its industry.
FET Flagship
Future flagship
THE GOAL of the proposed Flagship is to provide a sustainable alternative to the fossil-based, energy-intensive production of chemicals, including energy carriers. The needed energy will be provided by sunlight, the raw materials will be plentiful low-cost molecules, i.e., CO2, H2O, N2 and O2.
IN THE SHORT TERM, the flagship project primarily aims at providing value chemicals using renewable electricity sources and waste CO2 from industrial processes as raw material for circular production of chemicals and fuels. The energy return on energy invested (EROI), which is not yet maximized, in particular due to inefficient use of electricity at the intermediate stage, will be improved step by step while closing cycles.
IN THE LONG TERM the energy input for the chemical processes is directly provided by sunlight, which is converted following radically new approaches (e.g., photochemical, electrochemical, biological) of dragging CO2, H2O, N2 and O2 into chemical products. Final targets are sustainable high value products that can be concentrated to any desired level, going beyond the natural photosynthesis process with higher efficiency and a wide selection of target molecules. Due to the modernization of the EU industry and the expected decline of climate-altering emissions, the CO2 raw material will have to come ultimately from non-concentrated sources. For a wider variety of chemical products, resources will be recycled from the environment: air, water and land.
THE KEY ENABLERS for such an ambitious paradigm shift are information technology and new advanced materials. The former will enable optimized production processes, with savings of energy and feedstocks. New materials will allow cost-competitive, efficient and durable solutions across a number of renewable energy technologies. Given the interdisciplinary character of solar energy research and its intrinsic societal and economic implications, this flagship initiative requires key contributions from a wide spectrum of disciplines, including: chemistry, biology, physics, engineering as well as social and environmental sciences and humanities.
The production of chemicals by sunlight and widely available feedstocks (CO2, H2O, N2 and O2) is a key milestone towards a circular economy. In particular, we target a sustainable CO2 cycle, where the concentration in the atmosphere is decreased and then maintained at a level compatible with climate stability, with sustainable use of natural resources and land. The 10-year flagship innovation program will allow European economies to convert of up to 1000-2500 ton atmospheric CO2 per hectare per year, depending on the latitude, at an unprecedented level of systems absorbing 90% of incoming photons and delivering 80% into products. The technology development will take into account key constraints such as the EROI and availability and durability of critical materials.
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Contact: L. vd Velden
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