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Scientists discover new method of converting carbon dioxide into jet fuel

Aviation Updates Philippines – Scientists at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom have discovered a new way of converting carbon dioxide (CO2) into jet fuel, a process that could help mitigate the aviation industry's negative effects on the environment.

The aviation industry currently makes up about 12 percent of all transportation-related CO2 emissions. One contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the production of jet fuel, a process that involves extracting carbon buried underneath the earth's surface.

Previous attempts to transform CO2 into fuel have relied heavily on catalysts made of relatively-expensive materials such as cobalt and involved numerous chemical processing procedures. In contrast, this new method developed by researchers at Oxford uses a low-cost, iron-based catalyst that is abundant on earth and requires far fewer steps.

The findings of the study were published last month in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

"Climate change is accelerating, and we have huge carbon dioxide emissions," Tiancun Xiao, one of the study's co-authors, told Wired. "The infrastructure of hydrocarbon fuels is already there. This process could help relieve climate change and use the current carbon infrastructure for sustainable development."

During the study, Oxford researchers combined carbon dioxide with hydrogen, citric acid, and the iron-manganese-potassium catalyst inside a pressurized stainless-steel reactor. This mixture was then heated to 300 degrees Celsius, creating a liquid that could be used as jet fuel when produced in large quantities.

In tests lasting up to 20 hours, the catalyst successfully converted 38 percent of the carbon dioxide inside the reactor into jet fuel hydrocarbons and other chemical products such as propylene and ethylene, which can be used to make plastics.

While the lab experiment used carbon dioxide from a canister and only generated a few grams of liquid fuel, the researchers at Oxford say this concept could be scaled up further by capturing large amounts of greenhouse gases from factories, coal-burning power plants, or directly from the air through a process called direct-air capture. According to Xiao, this new technique would be cheaper than other methods of turning hydrogen and water into fuel since it would consume less electricity. Researchers also pointed out that burning jet fuel produced using this method releases the same amount of carbon dioxide that was used to manufacture it, resulting in carbon-neutral air travel.

"We need to reuse the carbon dioxide rather than simply burying or trying to replace it in the aviation industry," Professor Peter Edwards, one of the lead researchers, said in a statement. "This is about a new and exciting, climate-conscious, circular aviation economy."

Edwards continued: "Our vision is that the world can see that captured CO2 can be used as energy carrier to enable sustainable aviation. With government support, this would provide the stimulus to grow a new UK synthetic aviation fuel manufacturing industry. This advance offers post-Brexit Britain a chance to lead the world in climate change, boost our science base, and enhance our reputation. These scientific advances must now lead to breakthrough technology and innovation. We mustn't miss this opportunity."

The Oxford team and UK industries are reportedly in advanced discussions to set up pilot plant demonstrations; however, the details of these demonstrations (such as when and where they would take place) have yet to be revealed.

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