From solar fuel and anti-fog glasses to manufacturing innovation

(All illustrations: Bratislav Milenkovic)
(All illustrations: Bratislav Milenkovic)
The numerous spin-offs and patents generated at ETH Zurich are the driving force behind innovation in the Swiss economy. We present five of them.

Solar fuel

ETH spin-off Synhelion produces liquid fuels from a combination of sunlight, CO2 and water. A field of mirrors concentrates solar radiation onto a receiver. This generates process heat of over 1,500 degrees Celsius, which is used to produce syngas in a solar reactor. This gas can then be converted into kerosene, gasoline or diesel. When combusted, solar fuels emit only as much carbon as was used in their production. Synhelion is currently building a plant in Jülich, Germany, to demonstrate the feasibility of industrial-scale production.


Less cement

Neustark has developed a technology that binds CO2 on the surface and in the pores of demolished concrete. This process permanently locks in carbon that would otherwise escape into the atmosphere. If granules of this concrete are used in place of sand and gravel for fresh concrete, the same properties can be achieved with the addition of less cement. This further reduces carbon emissions. The ETH spin-off currently operates 14 carbon capture and storage plants at concrete recyclers, mainly in Switzerland.


Early diagnosis

A new method from ETH spin-off Scanvio is helping to speed up diagnosis of the disease endometriosis. The company founders have developed an AI algorithm that can scan ultrasound images of the uterus to detect this benign but painful growth of the inner uterine layer, the endometrium. This kind of tissue growth often remains invisible to the human eye. This means that patients currently wait an average of eight to twelve years for a diagnosis and generally have to undergo a laparoscopic procedure as well.


Clear view

researchers have developed and patented a simple and effective method to prevent glasses, mirrors and car windows from fogging. A wafer-thin, transparent nanocoating of gold, applied to glass or other surfaces, absorbs a large portion of the infrared radiation emitted by the sun. This warms up the coating to a temperature of eight degrees Celsius, ensuring a clear view even in humid conditions - without requiring additional energy.

Laboratory of Thermodynamics in Emerging Technologies

Better quality

Poor quality drives up manufacturing costs and can quickly damage a brand’s reputation and harm the environment. A software platform from ETH spin-off EthonAI uses machine learning to detect, monitor and prevent quality problems in production. EthonAI’s software compares images from cameras on the production line and generates heat maps to highlight potential flaws. Use of this technology has already helped manufacturers such as Siemens, Roche and Lindt & Sprüngli to substantially increase productivity and reduce quality issues by over 50 percent.


This text appeared in the 24/02 issue of the ETH magazine Globe.
Editorial Team