Converting CO2 Into jet fuel?! Whaaaat?! Plus ZeroAvia—creating green hydrogen turboprop airliners? No way! How about this–the miracle Of CO2 hydrogenation to combat climate change? Game changer.
Converting CO2 Into Jet Fuel?! ZeroAvia—Creating Green Hydrogen Turboprop Airliners? The Miracle Of CO2 Hydrogenation To Combat Climate Change?
CONVERTING CO2 INTO JET FUEL
We come upon a lot of really interesting and sometimes bizarre stuff researching people and organizations taking action to combat climate change—and this has to be one of the most intriguing. According to the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists are researching how to create jet fuel from CO2 in the air.
Currently, the total annual emission of CO2 by the aviation industry accounts for 2.4% of global output. I know, that doesn’t seem like much. But according to the International Council for Clean Aviation, industry’s emissions increased by 32% in just a 5-year period (2013-2018). And if the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation are correct, air travel is on track to be using over 25% of the worldwide carbon budget. Clearly, then, the aviation industry needs a new flightpath.
So, if it becomes possible to recapture CO2 emissions and re-use them to refuel jets, that would be something special. So is it possible, and if so, how would it be possible?
Here’s something I didn’t know until writing this story—it’s possible, two ways. The first way uses a tremendous amount energy by converting CO2 first to plain old carbon or methanol. Then from there reconverting the carbon into a liquid hydrocarbon—aka oil, texas tea…you know the rest. That’s called the indirect route.
The second way, or the direct route. That involves combining CO2 with an iron-based catalyst to spark the “reverse water gas shift.” This shift occurs in a reaction chamber filled with hydrogen gas. The catalyst helps the newly free carbon atoms link up with hydrogen atoms in the gas. The resulting reaction and the subsequent hydrogenation of CO to long-chain hydrocarbons via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (FTS) creates the basis for jet fuel. And guess what the byproduct is? H2O. Good ol’ water.
These thermodynamic calculations, in conjunction with catalysis development and reaction engineering are expected to guide the future research approach towards jet fuel range alkane synthesis from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
THE MIRACLE OF CO2 HYDROGENATION TO COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE?
Let’s take a closer look at this last story. At least three different teams around the world have explored the concept that the hydrogenation of CO2 not only reduces the increasing CO2 buildup but also produces fuels and chemicals. since 2000, including the U.S. Navy.
In 2012, the U.S. Naval Research Lab commenced to study the feasibility and current estimated capital costs of producing jet fuel at sea using CO2 and hydrogen. The study found that a comparative cost/benefit and energy balance analysis addresses the critical scientific and technical challenges that impact the economic feasibility of synthesizing up to 100 000 gal per day of jet fuel at sea using carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from the sea.
Included in this analysis are the capital cost, operation and maintenance, and electrical generation cost for synthesizing jet fuel at sea using either ocean thermal energy conversion or nuclear power processes as the energy source. The results suggest that jet fuel could be produced at sea for $3 to $6/gal.
Given the average retail price for Jet-A (aviation fuel) is currently about $5.34/ gallon, it makes economic sense. And even if the Navy doesn’t pay retail, it makes sense from a national security standpoint.
So why does this matter to us? After all, only a fraction of one percent of us will ever get to Top Gun school or fly airplanes for that matter. The military often foments technological research which they then sell, auction or license to private companies for commercial exploitation. IOW, they bring it to market for the rest of us.
MORE ON HYDROGENATION REACTION TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE
So think about this for a minute: Imagine a world where machines pull CO2 from the air, and using a catalyst perform a hydrogenation reaction process which results in fuel and water. This world exists, and that’s why the last two stories matter to us. It’s more than just because jet fuel could be created from excess CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. They matter because researchers have proven that as an economical, safe, and renewable carbon source, CO2 turns out to be an attractive carbon building block for making organic chemicals, materials, and carbohydrates.
In other words, the ability to convert CO2 into useful chemicals not only contributes to alleviating global climate changes caused by the increasing CO2 emissions, but also it would provide a grand challenge in exploring new concepts and opportunities for catalytic and industrial development.
In other OTHER words, hydrogenation reaction, an important representative among chemical conversions of CO2, offers challenging opportunities for sustainable development in energy and the environment. And since some of the greatest commercial innovations in history began as military research projects, and given the Navy has spent considerable time potentially developing the technology, it behooves us to encourage them to continue!
I know you’re a pilot and don’t like talking about it, and that the aviation industry as a whole doesn’t want to talk about it either. What am I talking about?
Significant amounts of NITROUS OXIDE, contrails, and particulate matter have a specific warming effect of their own. Released at high altitudes, aviation emissions have 2–4x the impact of comparable ground source emissions. Overall, they amplify the climate impact of aviation.
These are the conversations the folks at Zero Avia are having though. ZeroAvia is a British/American hydrogen-electric aircraft developer. The company was founded in 2017 by former Google executive, Valery Miftakhov, who currently serves as the company CEO.
ZeroAvia is developing hydrogen-fueled powertrain technology aiming to compete with conventional engines in propeller aircraft, with an aim of zero-emission and lower noise. Hydrogen-electric propulsion is the only way to scale sustainable aviation for commercial use. Zero-emission aviation starts with green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen is produced through electrolysis and stored at or near airports, to reduce transportation costs that traditionally drive up the price. The electrolyzers are powered by locally generated renewable energy. ZeroAvia has already completed over 35 successful test-flights of their powertrain technology using a Piper M-class six-seater aircraft – including the world’s first hydrogen-electric passenger flight back in 2020.
ZeroAvia has secured two 19-seat Dornier 228 turboprops for the next phase of its hydrogen-electric-powered aircraft development efforts. The company plans to replace the aircraft’s twin engines with two 600 kW electric powertrain units and hydrogen fuel tanks eventually holding 100 kg (220 pounds) of compressed gaseous hydrogen to support a projected 500-mile range. The tanks will be mounted on the wings of the aircraft.
Why does this matter to us? Well selfishly, it matters to Jeffrey because it could mean he can continue his passion for flying airplanes in the era of climate change. And for those of you who would rather ride than pilot, it means you still get to travel to all your favorite far-off destinations.