Transforming CO2 from the atmosphere into jet fuel

Oxford researchers have developed catalysts that capture carbon dioxide to convert it into jet fuel.

Air transport is one of the major contributors to CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. Scientists have been studying ways to capture carbon dioxide and turn it into fuel for years, and today they finally seem to be on track to make this technology feasible.

As described in an article published in the journal Nature Communications, in fact, a team of researchers from the University of Oxford has developed an experimental process capable of using iron-based catalysts to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into fuel for aeroplanes.

When fossil fuels burn, carbon and hydrogen react with atmospheric oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water, releasing energy during combustion. The hydrogenation of CO2 can reverse this natural process. There are several methods to obtain it, including those that use ferrous-based catalysts. The new system developed by the Oxford scientists consists of transforming carbon dioxide into fuel through the production of a class of Potassium-Iron-Manganese catalysts using a method called Organic-Combustion Method (OCM).

How does the Organic-Combustion Method (OCM) method work?

Specifically, combustion takes place at a temperature of 350°C between citric acid, hydrogen and carbon dioxide as the main ingredients. A chemical reaction occurs thanks to a catalyst composed of iron, manganese and potassium. These elements are found in abundance in nature and are easier and cheaper to prepare than other potential elements that might have the same reaction.

The catalyst also combines easily with hydrogen and shows high selectivity for a series of aeronautical fuel hydrocarbons. Thanks to this technique, the researchers could produce a small amount of liquid fuel that could power a jet engine.

What are the real-world implications on a larger scale?

Currently, the experiment has been carried out in a laboratory in a stainless steel reactor, and the amount of carbon dioxide used is equal to that of a can. Only a few grams of fuel were therefore produced. To make this process usable in the real world, the scientists’ idea would be to store and transform carbon dioxide into fuel with special plants built near the factories that produce it. Currently, research is going on to allow it to be based on direct absorption and use of CO2 from the atmosphere.

What are the factors to consider?

Some of the factors that we must take into account. There are some disadvantages to this method. Right now, the procedure is expensive and requires an enormous amount of energy consumption. Another disadvantage is the risk it comes with. The incompatibility with the hydrocarbon chain, which has a certain number of atoms, poses a significant hurdle.

What are the benefits?

Such research on the conversion of carbon dioxide into fuel could finally pave the way towards a circular economy in the world of transport, in particular in the air sector. Obviously, the production of electricity and hydrogen necessary for the hydrogenation process must also be a zero-emission process so that it can actually be considered beneficial for the environment.

“We hope the world can see that CO2 can be used as an energy carrier and enable sustainable aviation”

“These scientific advances can lead to revolutionary technologies and innovations for a renewable and sustainable world, so they are critical to safeguarding our future”.

said Peter Edwards, University of Oxford.

At SIDI, we see the importance of changing the world through disruptive technology. This technology could open up spaces for a much more efficient way of transportation in the future. A carbon-neutral fuel solution will be a game-changer in the coming years.

To know more about the finding, read the article on Nature communications: From CO2 to jet fuel

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