A simple, yet world-altering method of sucking CO2 from the air into airplanes where it is converted directly to jet fuel is described in a new paper published in Nature.
With the importance of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere at the front and center of so many economic and policy decisions, the invention of an onboard system for carbon-neutral flight would represent a massive step towards addressing the climate crisis.
Some estimates puts the aviation industry's primarily-CO2 footprint of global emissions at just under 1 billion metric tons, or around 2.4% of all human activities.
Converting atmospheric CO2 into useable hydrocarbon fuel is difficult, and as until recently, expensive both in terms of capital and electricity. Using a molecule that is fully oxidized and thermodynamically stable, there are few keys that can cheaply or efficiently 'unlock it' for reuse.
Some catalysts, compounds that can attract and force a change in molecules, can convert CO2 into hydrocarbon molecules of a desirable configuration for jet fuels, but their use is limited because they are expensive or require huge amounts of electricity. They're also inconsistent with producing hydrocarbon chains with the number of atoms ideal for aviation fuels.
The University of Oxford's Peter Edwards, Tiancun Xiao, Benzhen Yao, and colleagues designed a new iron-based catalyst that represents an inexpensive way of directly capturing atmospheric CO2 and converting it into a jet fuel-range of hydrocarbons.