How to produce kerosene from CO2
An article that appeared in the journal Nature at the end of December describes a simple and revolutionary method to improve the aviation sector’s impact on the climate.
This method consists in having airplanes extract the carbon dioxide found in the air and convert it directly into fuel.
Converting the CO2 in the atmosphere into an easy-to-use hydrocarbon is a real technical challenge. The CO2 molecule is inert and extremely stable from a thermodynamic point of view and solutions for reusing it effectively and inexpensively are rare.
Certain catalysts — that is, substances capable of changing a molecule’s composition — can convert CO2 into jet fuels, which are fuels for jet engines and aviation gas turbines.
The disadvantages are that they are expensive and require large amounts of energy to work. There is also the risk that they are incompatible with the hydrocarbon chain that has the number of atoms needed by the jet fuels.
A catalyst to “destabilize” the CO2 molecule
But all hope is not lost. A team of researchers from Oxford University in the United Kingdom has designed a catalyst able to capture the CO2 found in the atmosphere and convert it into a source of energy for jet fuels.
This catalyst contains iron and elemental chemical compounds, such as potassium nitrate, citric acid and manganese. It need simply be brought to a temperature of 300°C to be activated.
The experiment also made it possible to recover other derived products that are currently only available from crude oil.
This CO2 conversion method therefore holds great potential for providing resources with properties similar to those of petrochemical products. “This, then, is the vision for the route to achieving net-zero carbon emissions from aviation; a fulcrum of a future global zero-carbon aviation sector,” the article reads.
If this carbon-neutral flight solution were to be widely adopted, it would mark an important step in the fight against climate change. As a reminder, the carbon footprint of the aviation sector (in non-Covid-19 times) represents around one billion metric tons, i.e. 2.4% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
“Transforming carbon dioxide into jet fuel using an organic combustion-synthesized Fe-Mn-K catalyst,” Nature, December 22, 2020 - www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-20214-z