Chemistry World reported on Friday that a group of European researchers have made a giant step toward inventing a process that will create jet fuel from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. If and when the process can be brought to an industrial scale it could make greenhouse gasses, considered a dire problem by some, into a valuable resource. It might even make jet plane travel carbon neutral.
The idea is that at high temperatures, water and carbon dioxide break apart into hydrogen, carbon monoxide and oxygen. Then hydrogen and carbon monoxide combines to become syngas. Then using the well-known Fischer-Tropsch process can be converted into kerosene or gasoline.
The trick has always been to remove the excess oxygen, which tends to make the syngas more explosive and therefore dangerous. The European researchers have hit upon the idea of using cerium oxide. When heated with concentrated sunlight the cerium oxide released oxygen which is piped out. When the syngas is created, the cerium reacts with carbon dioxide and water to produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide, absorbing the excess oxygen. Then the cerium oxide is blasted again with sunlight repeating the cycle.
Thus far the researchers have only succeeded in created a glassful of kerosene at an efficiency of 1.73 percent. For the process to be economically viable, it will have to achieve an efficiency of 15 percent. The researchers are confident that this can be done with improvements in materials, reactor geometry, heat management, gas management and reactor size. The next step is to try out the process with a 50 kilowatt reactor which will allow for extensive chemical analysis and tests.
The European project is not the only one delving into the idea of making jet fuel from water and carbon dioxide. The United States Navy is researching for ways to make jet fuel on every ship that carries aircraft from sea water and co2. This would greatly extend the reach of American military power by removing one essential product from the logistical chain.