Biggest pollutant turned into jet fuel? Tech needs large-scale CO2 or carbon-capture techniques for viability as net-zero emission

commercial jetliner CO2
CO2 converted to jet fuel in a lab. Pic credit: Paul Brennan/Pixabay

Scientists have managed to convert CO2, the most common greenhouse gas and biggest polluting gas, into usable and highly combustible fuel. Interestingly, the fuel is so potent, the aviation industry can use the CO2-derived synthetic mix as jet fuel. However, for commercial use, the production techniques and methods to capture CO2 from the atmosphere will have to massively scale up.

Carbon Dioxide or CO2 is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. Moreover, there are hardly any signs of a slowdown in CO2 emissions despite multiple accords, commissions, and global treaties. Instead of offering ways to reduce CO2 pollution, scientists have now offered a way to use the gas as fuel.

Organic combustion method that effectively reverses the process of traditional fuel-burning methods turns CO2 into fuel?

A new technique promises to turn CO2 into fuel. Surprisingly, the team behind the project insists the fuel is clean and potent enough to drive a commercial airliner. Modern-day passenger jets are by far one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels.

Attempts to fly commercial airplanes with clean electrical energy, even if derived from Hydrogen fuel cells, is possible. However, only a few airliners have willingly taken up the project.

Global aviation, including domestic and international, which also includes passenger and freight, accounts for 2.5 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions. Moreover, these airplanes rely on non-renewable fossil fuels.

Understanding the immediate and pressing need to come up with a solution, scientists at Oxford University claim to have reverse-engineered fuel from the greenhouse gas. They have certainly shown the possibility of conventionally-powered aircraft with net-zero emissions.

Although the exact process remains a secret and quite experimental in nature, a team at Oxford University in the United Kingdom has come up with a process that might be able to turn Carbon Dioxide into jet fuel.

The technique effectively reverses the process of burning fuel by relying on the organic combustion method. To prove their process works, the team heated a mix of citric acid, hydrogen, and an iron-manganese-potassium catalyst to turn CO2 into liquid fuel.

The fuel is so potent, it is capable of powering jet aircraft. The team claims the process is inexpensive, uncomplicated, and uses commonplace or readily available materials. What’s even more surprising is that the entire process can be cheaper than the one commonly used to turn hydrogen and water into fuel.

When will commercial airliners use jet fuel made from CO2?

The experiment was earlier reported in Nature Communications. Scientists succeeded in a laboratory and caution the process still needs to be replicated at a larger scale. Simply put, the process is highly experimental in nature.

There are several limitations and restrictions, some of which need governments and large industries to address. The experiment produced a few grams of fuel. A commercial airliner needs anywhere between 2 and 10 tons of jet fuel per hour. Needless to add, the process needs to scale up massively.

The second and equally pressing concern is the rate of Carbon Capture. As the name implies, several methods, currently under trial, capture Carbon and CO2 that every machine and vehicle which utilizes fossil-fuel emits.

Many governments and even large tech companies are still experimenting to improve the amount of CO2 captured from the atmosphere. Hence, even the capture and conversion techniques will need to be massively improved and deployed in large, densely populated, or heavily industrialized regions.

It is interesting to note that the researchers are talking with industrial partners. Additionally, the minds behind the project do not foresee any scientific hurdles. Simply put, the primary limitation is the ready availability of CO2.

The biggest advantage, however, is for the airlines. Commercial airline operators need not make any modifications to their fleet to use the new fuel. They can continue to rely on conventional jet fuel, which will now be manufactured using CO2.

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