Based in Lugano in the canton of Ticino, Synhelion has produced the world’s first solar clinker in conjunction with the Mexican firm Cemex, which was the fifth-largest manufacturer of cement worldwide in 2020. As the two companies write in a joint press release, this “revolutionary innovation” represents a first step on the road to developing “fully solar-driven cement plants”. Dr. Gianluca Ambrosetti, CEO and co-founder of Synhelion, is proud that his company has been able to demonstrate a “specific industrially relevant application of our fully renewable, high-temperature solar heat” together with Cemex.
Synhelion was founded in 2016 as a spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH). The solar fuel technologies developed by the company are intended to replace fossil fuels of all types. According to the press release, the company converts concentrated sunlight into “the hottest existing solar process heat – beyond 1,500°C – on the market”. By 2050, Cemex wants to be in a position to deliver globally CO2-neutral concrete. A key factor in this strategy is CEMEX Ventures and its Research and Development Centerlocated in Brügg in the canton of Bern.
The research teams from both companies installed a pilot plant at the Imdea energy research institute of the Madrid regional government, where Synhelion’s solar receiver used concentrated sunlight to deliver “record-breaking” temperatures in excess of 1,500 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, a gaseous heat transfer fluid is heated up, which in turn provides the necessary process heat to fuse together limestone, clay and other materials.
The clinker produced in this way was used in the manufacturing process for cement, before being further processed into concrete. In the next phase of their joint research and development project, Synhelion and Cemex will seek to work towards an industrial-scale pilot plant.