A team of scientists from the University of Oxford has found a way to produce aviation fuel from carbon dioxide, in what is described as “significant social progress”.
Currently, jet fuel is generated by oil extracted from the country, and as a result, aviation significantly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the Aviation Environment Federation, aviation accounts for about 10% of total CO2 in the UK, with that number only increasing as air traffic continues to grow worldwide.
In addition to releasing CO2, aircraft also release NOx, soot and water vapor, resulting in a net warming effect that roughly doubles the overall impact of aviation on global warming relative to CO2 itself.
According to Science News, previous attempts to convert carbon dioxide into fuel have relied on catalysts made from relatively expensive materials.
However, a team from Oxford University managed to collect CO2 from the air and convert it into fuel using cheap iron catalysts. The process negates the need to extract oil from the ground, which in turn makes it carbon neutral.
The researchers, led by Professor Peter Edwards, were able to convert highly stable CO2 back into fuel using a chemical reaction driven by a low-temperature iron-based catalyst and the addition of hydrogen.
Writing in a magazine Nature Communications, the team expressed the belief that this process could ‘mitigate carbon dioxide emissions but also produce renewable and sustainable jet fuel’.
Edwards discussed the discovery with Mail Online, saying it could put Britain at the helm of a revolutionary new green industry.
This is a truly exciting, potentially revolutionary advancement, the most important advancement in my four decades of career.
Although research is still in its infancy, Edwards said it could be increased in two to three years to create large amounts of aviation fuel.
Our vision is that the world can see that captured CO2 can be used as an energy carrier to enable sustainable aviation.
With government support, this would provide an impetus for the growth of a new synthetic aviation fuel manufacturing industry in the UK. This progress offers Britain a chance after Brexit to lead the world in climate change, strengthen our scientific base and strengthen our reputation.
These advances in science must now lead to the breakthrough of technology and innovation. We must not miss this opportunity.
Edwards explained that the team in negotiations with British industry is setting up a demonstration of the pilot plant using the newly discovered method.