Although the first ideas for electric aircraft have been formed, we have quite a few years before the start of flights. Meanwhile, researchers are trying to make commercial aircraft more sustainable, and one of the best ways to do that is to replace the fuel they consume. Teams from Oxford and Cambridge Universities thought about the idea of capturing and using this gas as fuel, rather than releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.
Instead of making electric aircraft that require major breakthroughs in battery technology, an idea has emerged that could soon reduce the world’s carbon footprint with this new approach. If they can make it work on a large scale, of course.
In the laboratory, researchers were able to use a cheap ferrous catalyst to capture CO2 gas directly and convert it into jet fuel. The amount of fuel obtained is very small, but if fossil fuels can be taken from the air in high volumes and converted to energy with a sufficiently large efficiency factor and released again, an aircraft can theoretically fly neutral to carbon.
Normally, when fossil fuels are burned, the hydrocarbons they contain turn into carbon dioxide and water and give energy. This new system reverses the natural process we are talking about.
By adding heat to the system, engineers combined carbon dioxide with hydrogen, separated it from water and created several grams of liquid fuel that they thought could be used in a jet engine.
The catalyst used for this impressive chemical reaction contains iron, manganese and potassium, these elements are quite abundant in our world, easier and cheaper to prepare than other possibilities. The catalyst can also easily combine with hydrogen and has a high selection of jet fuel hydrocarbons.
As a result, some fuel is also passed, but also petrochemicals that can only be obtained from fossil fuels.
The new system is not the first and will not be the last to convert carbon emissions into a desirable form of fuel. In Canada, scientists were developing an industrial and large complex that would capture CO2, similar to the forest’s CO2 capture, and in this way they were aiming to create hydrocarbon fuel.
Although it is possible to convert CO2 in the atmosphere into liquid fuel, it became clear that obtaining more than a small amount was extremely difficult and expensive. The new system offers hope, but whether it will serve the practical purpose is another matter. Increasing the scale is always a problem, surprises can occur. But in a long-term project, it is necessary to adopt an environmental carbon economy.
Some researchers are hopeful, others find the idea of flying in the air utopian. Last year, a European company said it wanted to obtain CO2 in the atmosphere and offer it as fuel for future aircraft, and critics said the amount of fuel produced each day could only fly the plane for five minutes.
The climate crisis cannot be fueled by so much fuel, and some environmentalists say the only way out is to make fewer flights. The environmental carbon economy has not yet been realized, and the climate change crisis is about to explode. As a result, it’s important how fast we get this promising technology to the top, and the fact is, it may not happen as fast as we think.
Engineers want to connect their new systems to familiar elements that make carbon emissions, for example, coal-burning power plants, which of course require continuing consumption of fossil fuels. It is also extremely expensive and may not seem attractive to the business community even if it is successful.
Plant-based, sustainable biofuels also require large amounts of crop space and cannot simultaneously reduce our emissions.
The study team concluded: “we can create a vision in the aviation sector where we can access net zero carbon emissions and achieve a global zero-carbon aviation in the future.”
Together we will see.