Innovation Community on Sunlight to X

Sunlight to X is a global ‘innovation community’ focused to fully realize the potential of directly converting sunlight to fuels and chemicals using water, carbon dioxide, and other feedstocks either through direct solar-driven processes or by close coupling of solar-driven and chemical production processes (i.e., integrated processes).

Innovation Challenges are global calls to action aimed at catalysing global research in areas that could provide significant benefits in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy access and security and creating new opportunities for clean economic growth. IC5 – Converting Sunlight into Solar Fuels and Chemicals, was one of the seven Innovation Challenges which were launched at COP22 in November 2016 with an objective to accelerate the development and deployment of new solar conversion technologies worldwide.

The IC5 has transitioned into the Innovation Community on Sunlight to X during the 8th ministerial in India in July 2023. 

Decarbonizing our energy systems requires innovation in energy conversion, storage, and delivery. Clean or renewable electricity will play a central role. Interconverting electricity and chemical energy through, for example, electrochemistry or electrically driven processes is critical for decarbonization of all energy sectors. Sunlight to X is a high risk, high payoff endeavor to create a new integration paradigm for solar fuels, increase the stakeholder base, codify the needed innovations to create impactful solar fuel technologies, and develop technology roadmaps.

The Issue

The renewable energy resource with the largest potential to help meet the challenge for a decarbonised energy system is solar energy, providing thousands times more energy to the Earth per year than our global annual energy consumption. The traditional paths to convert solar energy is to electricity using photovoltaics (PV) and to heat using solar thermal, usually used to heat water for residential purposes, and in large-scale concentrated solar power (CSP) plants to either generate steam directly or indirectly through a storable heat transfer fluid to generate electricity.

Roughly a third of energy carrier reaching consumers is in fact in the form of liquid fuels. Today only fossils and biomass are converting into a liquid form of energy vector.

In order to have a major impact on reducing fossils fuels and reducing GHG emission, we need to encourage the production of liquid forms of energy vector from non-carbon energy source like solar. The challenge is creating new technologies, new industries and new services.

The Opportunity

Direct solar conversion processes offer new routes for long duration chemical energy storage and the potential for de-centralized concepts not requiring electric transmission grids or complex power electronics and power supplies required for electrolyzers.  The concepts advanced in this platform to convert CO2 and water into chemicals could also be directly applied to carbon dioxide capture and conversion processes, thereby ameliorating the large amounts of energy required by current approaches.

This Innovation Challenge will create an international ecosystem to accelerate both scientific advances in solar fuels and the move from science to technology development through international cooperation and coordination.

Sunlight to X, often termed “solar fuels”, will aim to fully realize the potential of directly converting sunlight to fuels and chemicals using water, carbon dioxide, and other feedstocks either through direct solar-driven processes or close coupling of solar-driven and chemical production processes.



  • Create a new integration paradigm for converting solar energy to chemicals and products;
  • Coordinate and enhance global R&D efforts; Develop critical analysis, standards, and key performance indicators;
  • Codify the needed innovations, fundamental and applied R&D challenges;
  • Incorporate engineering and technology development approaches; and,
  • Increase stakeholder base and outreach to industry and entrepreneurs.

Co-Leads:   European Union   China

Participants (pending final endorsement): Australia, Austria,  Brazil,  France,  Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, US


  • Build on the R&D roadmap beyond the Mission innovation Challenge “Converting Sunlight into Solar Fuels and Chemicals” (IC5)
  • Define the metrics for success such as KPIs on cost, performance, durability, scalability, and manufacturability
  • Define the essential standards and protocols such as for example on durability, selectivity and efficiency, similar to the existing standards for PV efficiency chart/certification
  • Develop a common language for mutual understanding among the different communities and agreed-upon parameters for TEA, LCA, impact analysis and other assessments
  • Bring onboard engineers and all the expertise from the earliest low TRL stage
  • Establish modeling and simulation for processes, system models, etc.
  • Establish and test scalable demonstrations
    • Defining what is a scalable element (definition of a “module”)
    • Focus on mid-term technologies using elements from e-fuels and bioprocesses
    • Developing larger-scale demonstrators and projects
  • Explore and codify overlap and synergy with e-fuels initiatives
  • Bring lab research to market readiness.



  • Forthcoming…

For More information:

The Innovation Community is planning to launch an online wiki platform to provide a repository with live library/database/information on state-of-the-art innovation topics. Any field related professional would then be able to join the wiki platform and contribute to the repository.

For more details on the Innovation community’s previous activities, click the link below

IC5: Converting Sunlight

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