Eco-friendly Jet fuel can make Carbon-Neutral Air Travel Feasible
Many innovations by startups & scientists are happening across the world to reduce the burden of greenhouse emissions on the climate especially carbon dioxide.
The aviation industry alone accounts for 12% of carbon dioxide emissions due to transportation.
Restraining carbon emissions is a big challenge in the aviation sector as large passenger planes need to have super heavy batteries to be able to work on electricity. Such an electric system is successful for short distances but becomes impractical for large aircraft that have to travel long distances.
A novel chemical process can solve this problem and make the planes carbon-neutral. A team of researchers from Oxford University has experimentally demonstrated that carbon dioxide can be converted into jet fuel using an iron-based chemical reaction. This process can replace present-day jet fuel with eco-friendly jet fuel that utilizes atmospheric CO2.
The Technological Process
The process named as organic combustion method helped researchers to transform carbon dioxide present in the air into eco-friendly jet fuel and other products. In the process, the iron catalyst (with added potassium and manganese) along with hydrogen, citric acid, and carbon dioxide was heated to 350 degrees C. As a result, the carbon atoms are forced apart from the oxygen atoms present in CO2 molecules and bond with hydrogen atoms. The chemical process turns original constituents into the hydrocarbon molecules comprising liquid jet fuel. Water molecules and other products were also created along with the jet fuel.
When fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas get burnt, their hydrocarbons are turned into carbon dioxide, and water and energy are released. This experiment essentially reverses the process that turns hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide through burning, releasing water, and energy. The experiment was conducted in a reactor made from stainless-steel and produced a few grams of the substance.
38% of the carbon dioxide was converted into jet fuel and other products in a pressurized chamber over a period of 20 hours. Out of the total output, jet fuel comprised 48% of the produced products with propylene, ethylene & water as other products.
- This process is less expensive as compared to other methods of producing fuel for airplanes, such as those that use hydrogen and water to produce fuel – mainly because it requires electricity.
- According to the researchers, the catalyst used in the process is abundant on earth, and it needs fewer steps for synthesizing high value-added chemicals.
- Such a system, if scaled up properly, could be installed in coal-fired power plants that currently emit a large amount of carbon dioxide.
Before it is taken forward as a business, the idea needs to be first tested thoroughly. There are other competing technologies that produce alternatives to traditional jet fuel. These alternative fuels are made from feedstocks like straw, municipal solid waste, woody biomass, and waste cooking oil.
Xiao, a member of the research team at Oxford, is also the founder of Velocys, a company developing alternative aviation fuels using municipal waste as a feedstock for British Airways & Shell and also diesel for trucks from wood and waste paper. According to Xiao, their idea has a good chance to outcompete the alternatives.
Though the scale-up can be an issue as the process has been successfully tried only at the lab scale, the team’s main focus is to make the process more efficient.
Eco-Friendly Jet Fuel
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