Kerosene synthesized by extracting CO2 from the atmosphere, an alternative fuel for passenger aircraft

More and more airports in the US and Europe are fueling passenger planes with alternative fuel from renewable sources in a bid to meet their carbon reduction targets.

Using electricity from renewable sources, a team of researchers at Oxford University proposes the synthesis of green fuels with zero-zero carbon emissions. Named eFuel, the substitute for kerosene, petrol and diesel normally obtained by refining oil is obtained by extracting CO2 directly from the atmosphere or hydrogen from a handy source such as water. If successful, technology that uses an iron-based chemical reaction could make zero-polluting passenger flights possible.

Unlike the burning of fossil fuels, the CO2 released into the atmosphere by the operation of aircraft powered by the new type of environmentally friendly kerosene forms a closed circuit, started at the stage of fuel synthesis. Thus, the contribution of pollutant emissions into the atmosphere is net-zero, as in the case of cars powered directly by electricity.

Alternative fuel – how to get it

According to the team of researchers involved in the project, the new type of synthetic fuel can be formulated to have the characteristics of any fossil fuel, the resulting product being ready for use with both airplanes and existing cars in circulation.

But first, the synthesis process tested in laboratory conditions must be reproduced on a large scale, the operation involving major investments in specialized industrial plants. At the same time, there is a need for a consistent source of energy obtained from renewable sources, to be “converted” eFuel.

However, the engineers who designed this process are confident in the chances of success:

Climate change is accelerating and we have huge carbon dioxide emissions, ”says Tiancun Xiao, a senior researcher in the Oxford Department of Chemistry. “The hydrocarbon fuel infrastructure already exists. The introduction of the new synthesis process could help improve climate change, using the current infrastructure for sustainable development. ”

When fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas burn, their hydrocarbons are converted to carbon dioxide and water and energy are released. This experiment reverses the process by turning carbon dioxide back into fuel using a method called organic combustion (CMO).

The technology involves heating to 350 degrees Celsius a compound consisting of citric acid + hydrogen, a catalyst of iron, manganese and potassium ensuring recombination with carbon dioxide. Cooled and condensed in liquid form, the resulting fuel can replace refined kerosene in petroleum. To be honest, for now the experiment was done in a stainless steel reactor and produced only a few grams of the substance.

In the lab, the carbon dioxide came from a container. But expanded on an industrial scale, the system will be based on capturing large amounts of greenhouse gases, either from a factory or directly from the air, to remove it from the environment.

Carbon dioxide is the most common of the greenhouse gases, being released from industrial activities, cars and wood burning, including forest fires and agriculture. Extracting it from the atmosphere, or at least creating a circuit that avoids the input of new CO2, could help reduce global warming.

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