A new paper published in Nature describes a simple but world-altering method of sucking CO2 out of the air into planes, where it is converted directly into jet fuel.
With the importance of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere front and center of so many economic and political decisions, the invention of an on-board system for carbon-neutral flights would represent a massive step in addressing the climate crisis.
Some estimates puts the global aviation industry’s primarily CO2 emissions footprint at just under 1 billion metric tons, or about 2.4% of all human activities.
Converting atmospheric CO2 into usable hydrocarbon fuel is difficult and, as until recently, costly both in terms of capital and electricity. By using a molecule that is fully oxidized and thermodynamically stable, there are few keys that can economically or efficiently “unlock” it for reuse.
Some catalysts, compounds that can attract and force a change in molecules, can convert CO2 into hydrocarbon molecules of a configuration desirable for jet fuels, but their use is limited because they are expensive or require large amounts of electricity. They are also incompatible with the production of hydrocarbon chains with the ideal number of atoms for aviation fuels.
Peter Edwards, Tiancun Xiao, Benzhen Yao and their colleagues at Oxford University designed a new iron-based catalyst that represents an inexpensive way to directly capture atmospheric CO2 and convert it into a range of jet fuel hydrocarbons.
The basic catalyst is iron-based and includes other simple chemicals like potassium nitrate, citric acid, and manganese, and when activated, it would only need to rise to about 300 ° C (572 ° F) to function.
The authors were also able to collect other important raw materials for the petrochemical industry during the conversion process, which are currently only available from crude oil. Essentially, what Edwards and the other researchers discovered was a method of “extracting” CO2, which, far from being the umbrella term used in climate change studies, represents a large amount of volatile natural resources that can produce all kinds of petrochemicals. on the floor. .
“The advances reported here offer a route outside the current, global [lifecycle] for aviation fuels, based on the (current) structure of production-consumption-elimination / emission ”, write the authors of the invention whose article was published in Nature.
“This, then, is the vision of the road to achieving net zero carbon emissions from aviation; a foothold for a future carbon-free global aviation industry. “
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