A New System That Aims to Create Carbon-Neutral Aviation
Scientists have achieved an amazing breakthrough in the development of carbon-neutral fuel for the aviation industry. An aviation fuel production system that uses water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide has been put into action. Its design was published on July 20th, 2022, in the journal Joule. The dream of achieving carbon-free aviation could become a reality with this development.
“We are the first to demonstrate the entire thermochemical process chain from water and CO2 to kerosene in a fully-integrated solar tower system.” - Aldo Steinfeld, Professor, Study Corresponding Author, ETH Zurich
The aviation industry accounts for approximately 5% of the global anthropogenic emissions that contribute to global climate change. The industry heavily relies on kerosene, commonly known as jet fuel
, a liquid hydrocarbon fuel derived from crude oil. There are no clean options to power commercial flights
on a global scale at the moment.
Production of Synthetic Kerosene
This breakthrough, with the help of solar energy, makes it possible to produce synthetic kerosene from water and carbon dioxide instead of crude oil. The amount of CO2 emitted during kerosene combustion in a jet engine equals what is consumed during its production in the solar plant. It is what makes the fuel carbon neutral, especially if the CO2 in the air is captured and directly used as an ingredient, which could be possible in the near future.
As part of the European Union's SUN-to-LIQUID project, Steinfeld and his colleagues put forward a system that uses solar power to generate drop-in fuels—synthetic alternatives to fossil-derived fuels like kerosene and diesel. Solar-produced kerosene is consistent with the current aviation infrastructure for allocation, fuel storage, and use in jet engines. It can also combine with fossil-derived kerosene, according to Steinfeld.
High Hopes for the Future
Steinfeld and his team began scaling the construction of a solar fuel manufacturing plant at the IMDEA Energy Institute in Spain half a decade ago. The plant has 169 sun-tracking reflective panels that redirect and concentrate solar radiation into a tower-mounted solar reactor. This concentrated solar energy then powers redox reaction cycles in the reactor’s porous ceria structure, which is not absorbed but can be reused. It transforms the water and carbon dioxide into syngas, a customized mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This syngas is then injected into a gas-to-liquid converter and is finally converted into liquid hydrocarbon fuels such as kerosene and diesel. Steinfeld and his team are working on amping up the reactor’s efficiency from the current 4% to more than 15%.