It’s no secret that carbon dioxide emissions are a major problem for the world. They seem to come from almost everything humanity does. Yet, we don’t have reliable ways to synthetically balance out the CO2 emissions being created with the Earth’s natural methods of removal.
A team of researchers from the University of Oxford wants to change that. According to Wired, the team has created a technique that turns carbon dioxide into jet fuel. If it can be scaled up, it would be a tremendous way to offset CO2 emissions from the airline industry while fueling it at the same time.
However, recreating the technique at scale may prove to be a challenge. So far, the team has only been able to produce a few grams of fuel at a time in the lab.
Its results were recently published in the journal Nature Communications.
Cleaner Jet Fuel
Reducing its global carbon footprint is a major goal for the aviation industry. It is one of the world’s biggest producers of CO2 emissions. The industry has tried a variety of techniques to address the problem, including the use of cleaner jet fuels and purchasing carbon offsets.
However, finding ways to negate the carbon emissions being put into the environment is the only acceptable next step. The Oxford team believes that its process could be the answer everyone is looking for.
In essence, it relies on a chemical reaction known as the organic combustion method (OCM). Heat and a mixture of catalysts are added to carbon dioxide to create liquid jet fuel. Researchers in the lab used carbon dioxide from a canister to complete the process in a stainless-steel reactor.
The real-world approach needs to be much different. Carbon dioxide would come from the air or from the emissions of a large factory. Tiancun Xiao, a senior research fellow from Oxford’s Department of Chemistry, notes that putting a jet fuel plant next to a power plant could be an ideal arrangement.
Of course, pulling carbon dioxide from the air with a method known as direct-air capture is also viable. There is certainly more than enough CO2 in the environment to facilitate the jet fuel production process.
Scalability Testing Required
Testing a process in the lab is one thing. Recreating it in the real world is entirely different. With that in mind, researchers have a lot of work ahead of them.
Joshua Heyne, an associate engineering professor from the University of Dayton who wasn’t part of the study, told Wired, “This does look different, and it looks like it could work. Scale-up is always an issue, and there are new surprises when you go to larger scales. But in terms of a longer-term solution, the idea of a circular carbon economy is definitely something that could be the future.”
Other industry experts note that building a jet fuel plant that also relies on green forms of electricity like wind and solar would double the positive impact of the CO2 recycling process.
It will be interesting to see if researchers are able to optimize their method in the coming years. If so, it could be a great way to cut back on some of humanity’s carbon emissions.