Scientists from ETH Zurich University, Switzerland, have designed a system that could produce sustainable jet fuel using just water, air (carbon dioxide), and sunlight.
As reported by the industry journal Joule, the fuel production system has been implemented in the field and can potentially make the aviation industry more carbon neutral.
“We are the first to demonstrate the entire thermochemical process chain from water and CO2 to kerosene in a fully-integrated solar tower system,” said Aldo Steinfield, a professor from ETH Zurich and lead author of the study.
Previous attempts have been made to produce aviation fuel through solar energy, but most have been performed in the laboratory.
The aviation industry is responsible for an estimated 5 per cent of toxic emissions that cause climate change. It relies heavily on jet fuel, or kerosene, a liquid hydrocarbon fuel usually derived from crude oil.
To date, there is no clean alternative to supply fuel to long-haul commercial flights on a global scale.
As part of the European Union’s Sun-to-liquid project, Steinfeld and his colleagues have developed a system that uses solar energy to produce drop-in fuels, synthetic alternatives to fossil-derived fuels such as diesel and kerosene.
Steinfeld explains that their solar-made kerosene is fully compatible with existing aviation infrastructure for storage, distribution, and end use in jet engines. The eco-fuel can also be blended with fossil-derived kerosene.
“That makes the fuel carbon neutral, especially if we use CO2 captured directly from the air as an ingredient, hopefully in the not-too-distant future,” he concluded.
The study is supported by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation and the EU Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.
Further reading: UK airline EasyJet says ‘radical changes’ needed in aviation, targets net-zero early