Researchers have found a way to get carbon out of the air and convert it into jet fuel

The beginning of the electric plane is upon us, but it is going to take off Many more years Before the average environmental activist can fly flawlessly on a full electric long-distance jet.

Meanwhile, scientists are trying to make the commercial aircraft we already have more sustainable, and one of the best ways to do that is to change the fuel they consume.

Instead of spitting out carbon dioxide (CO)2) Outside the atmosphere, researchers at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in the UK have now come up with a way for planes to capture this gas from the air and burn it for fuel.

Instead of building a new fleet of electric aircraft that will require a major leap in battery storage technology, this new approach will allow the world to reduce its carbon footprint too quickly. That is, if it proves to work on a large scale.

In the laboratory, researchers were able to capture and convert gaseous CO2 Directly on jet fuel using a cheap iron based catalyst.

The amount of liquid fuel produced is still too small to run an actual aircraft, but if a large amount of fossil fuels are captured from the air, converted into energy at sufficient efficiency and then re-exhausted, an aircraft is theoretically carbon neutral.

“This catalytic process not only mitigates carbon dioxide emissions but also provides an attractive path to produce renewable and sustainable jet fuel,” the authors said. Write.

“Recycling carbon dioxide through carbon for both fuels and high-value chemicals offers significant potential for the aerospace and petrochemical industries.”

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Generally, when fossil fuels burn, the hydrocarbons in them are converted into carbon dioxide and water to release energy. The new system fundamentally alters this natural process.

By adding heat to the system, engineers were able to combine carbon dioxide with hydrogen to separate it from water and produce a few grams of liquid fuel that the authors claim could work on a jet engine.

The catalyst responsible for this interesting chemical reaction is made up of iron, manganese and potassium, which are abundant earth components, making them easier and cheaper than many similar candidates. The catalyst combines easily with hydrogen and shows a high selectivity for the range of jet-fuel hydrocarbons.

The result is little fuel, as well as many petrochemicals that can only be obtained from fossil fuels.

The new system is not the first, and it will not be the last to turn our carbon emissions into desirable biofuels. In Canada, scientists are building a large industrial complex to capture CO2 Like the trees of a forest, it uses it to make hydrocarbon fuel.

But when there are a few studies It has been shown Atmospheric CO can be changed2 As a liquid fuel, producing more than a small amount can be very challenging and expensive.

The new system looks promising, but whether or not it works is another matter.

“It looks weird, it looks like it could work,” said Joshua Hein, an independent engineer who was not involved in the study. Said Wire.

“Scaling is always an issue, and there are new surprises when you go for larger measurements. But as a long-term solution, the idea of ​​a circular carbon economy is definitely one that could be in the future.”

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Some, like Heine, are optimistic Others see ‘flying in the air’ as mere exaggeration. Last year, when a company in Europe announced that it was working on a way to catch CO2 Critics point out that the fuel produced each day will only allow five minutes to fly, from air to power for future aircraft.

Such small yields are not a solution to the climate crisis, and some environmentalists argue that our only viable option is to fly low. The reality of a circular carbon economy in particular is still far away and crisis Climate change Is already on us.

In the end, it all depends In how quickly this promising technology can be measured, And the truth is, it doesn’t happen fast.

Engineers eventually want to integrate their new system with established carbon emissions, such as coal-fired power plants, which will of course require fossil fuel production. Its Very expensive, And will not attract businesses even if it works.

Still, as climate change accelerates and aircraft are set to increase in the coming years, a team of engineers Argue Co.2 Change and application “is an integral and important part of greenhouse gas control and sustainable development.”

Other sustainable biofuels that rely on plants Extensive cropland is required Do not deal with our emissions all at once.

“If so, this is a vision for a path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from aircraft,” they say. To the end, “The future of the global zero-carbon aviation industry is complete.”

We can see.

The study was published Nature Communications.

Veronica Tucker

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