Oxford University scientists have created an experimental catalyst that converts carbon dioxide into jet fuel.


Scientists at Oxford University have created an inexpensive and efficient catalyst that transforms carbon dioxide into jet fuel. The new method could reduce the aviation industry’s global carbon footprint by preventing carbon dioxide pollution and eliminating the jet fuel manufacturing process. However, the team still needs to solve the scale problem so it can be used in aircraft. The scientists are also hoping that it can help with the climate change issue.


Burning fossil fuels such as oil or natural gas involve converting their hydrocarbons being into carbon dioxide, causing water and energy to be released. The study demonstrates that the catalyst made of iron, manganese, and potassium are capable of reversing that process to convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuel by using the organic combustion method (OCM).


In their experiment, the team applied heat (350 degrees Celsius) to citric acid, hydrogen, and the iron-manganese-potassium catalyst in a stainless-steel reactor. As a result, they converted carbon dioxide into a liquid fuel that can be used in a jet engine. The team managed to produce just a few grams of liquid fuel along with petrochemicals, such as light olefins, which are typically acquired by refining crude oil.


The electron microscopy images of the iron-manganese-potassium catalyst. (Image Credit: 2020 Benzhen Yao et al.)


The next steps are to extract carbon dioxide directly from a factory or the air and to scale it up so that jet fuel can be produced from clean hydrogen in plants powered by renewable energy. If an alternative jet fuel factory operated on green energy from wind or solar power, then both the carbon dioxide and jet fuel could be produced sustainably. Approximately 4.7kg of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could be converted into jet fuel with this catalyst.


The team says this technique is cheaper compared to methods that transform hydrogen and water into liquid fuel. That’s because this process doesn’t use much electricity. A jet fuel plant could be installed close to a steel factory or coal-burning power plant to extract the excess carbon dioxide that can produce the fuel. Carbon dioxide could also be sucked out of the air through a technique called direct-air capture. The catalyst that carries out the conversion requires fewer steps than other methods that involve synthesizing chemicals.


The new carbon-dioxide-based jet fuel could compete with other candidates that are being tested as jet fuel alternatives. Those alternatives are made from straw, municipal solid waste, woody biomass, and waste cooking oil.


Now, the team is speaking with several large industrial partners about the new carbon dioxide conversion technique. They say there are no major obstacles involved, but they need to optimize the process and make it more efficient. This conversion process would allow airlines to keep their aircraft and go carbon neutral.


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