TECHNOLOGY

Carbon neutral jet fuel made from water and sunlight

Scientists have developed a carbon-neutral jet fuel for the first time (Credits: Getty)

Scientists have developed a CO2-neutral jet fuel.

The futuristic fuel uses water, carbon dioxide and sunlight to power jet engines.

Researchers in Switzerland are the first to produce the fuel in a power generator rather than in a lab.

The amount of synthetic jet fuel emitted when powering an aircraft is equal to the amount consumed during production in a solar power plant, making it carbon neutral.

The fuel will be even greener if the team can extract carbon dioxide from the air and use it in the fuel in the not-too-distant future.

The solar-powered kerosene, or jet fuel, is fully compatible with the existing way fuel is stored, distributed and used in an aircraft engine.

It can also be mixed with fossil kerosene, the team says.

In 2017, the team began scaling up their design and built a solar energy production plant at the IMDEA Energy Institute in Madrid, Spain.

Solar tower fuel plant during operation. (Credits: IMDEA Energy/SWNS)

It consists of 169 sun-tracking reflective panels that redirect and concentrate the solar radiation in a solar reactor on top of a tower.

The concentrated solar energy then drives oxidation-reduction (redox) reaction cycles in the solar reactor, which contains a porous structure made of ‘ceria’, a white or yellow heavy powder.

The ceria — which is not consumed but can be reused over and over — converts water and carbon dioxide injected into the reactor into “syngas,” which is made from hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

The syngas is then sent to a gas-to-liquid converter where it is ultimately processed into liquid hydrocarbon fuels, including kerosene and diesel.

The reactor contains a reticulated porous structure made of ceria. (Credits: Zurich/SWNS)

For nine days, the plant’s energy efficiency was found to be four percent, but the team is working to increase this to 15%.

Aircraft are responsible for about 5% of global emissions and their engines run on kerosene or jet fuel, a liquid hydrocarbon fuel usually extracted from crude oil.

There is no clean and effective way to fly airplanes today.

The study’s corresponding author, Professor Aldo Steinfeld, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, said: ‘We are the first to demonstrate the complete thermochemical process chain from water and CO2 to kerosene in a fully integrated solar tower system.

A solar reactor after exposure to concentrated solar radiation. (Credits: Zurich/SWNS)

‘With our solar technology, we have shown that we can make synthetic kerosene from water and CO2 instead of fossil fuels.

‘The amount of CO2 that is emitted during the combustion of kerosene in a jet engine is equal to that during its production in the solar power station.

‘That makes the fuel CO2 neutral, especially if we use CO2 that we extract directly from the air as an ingredient, hopefully in the not too distant future.

“This solar tower fuel plant was operated with an arrangement relevant for industrial implementation, marking a technological milestone for the production of sustainable aviation fuels.”

The findings were published in the journal Joule.

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