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July 26, 2014

Sustainable jet fuel aims for carbon neutrality

The solar-powered production of sustainable jet fuel synthesised from water and carbon dioxide could revolutionise aviation according to European-based scientists.

The SOLAR-JET consortium said its process also had the potential to sustainably produce any other type of fuel for transport, such as diesel, gasoline or pure hydrogen.

The project used concentrated sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water to a synthesis gas (syngas). This is done via a redox cycle with metal-oxide based materials at high temperatures.

Solar reactor and researcher team
Above: The solar reactor and researcher team in Zurich.

The syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, is finally converted into jet fuel (kerosene). This is done using the well-known and established Fischer-Tropsch technology, according to Hans Geerlings, a SOLAR-JET scientist.

“This is potentially a very interesting novel pathway to liquid hydrocarbon fuels using focused solar power,” Geerlings said.

“Although the individual steps of the process have previously been demonstrated at various scales, no attempt had been made previously to integrate the end-to-end system,” he said.

The idea is to produce a sustainable and carbon neutral aviation fuel according Andreas Sizmann, project coordinator.

solar reactor team
Above: The solar reactor.

The aviation industry produces up to 4 per cent of the annual CO2 emissions produced around the world from burning fossil fuels.

The SOLAR-JET sustainable jet fuel will still release CO2 when it is burnt, but during the production process CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere. Using solar power in the production process will also lower its overall carbon emissions footprint, Sizmann said.

“With this first-ever proof-of-concept for ‘solar’ kerosene, the SOLAR-JET project has made a major step towards truly sustainable fuels with virtually unlimited feedstocks in the future,” he said.

Increasing environmental and supply security issues are leading the aviation sector to seek alternative fuels that can be used interchangeably with today’s jet fuel, so-called drop-in solutions he said.

SOLAR-JET (the Solar chemical reactor demonstration and Optimisation for Long-term Availability of Renewable JET fuel) was launched in June 2011 and is receiving financial support from the European Union. The group has a number of member organisations from science and industry.

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