Researchers Design Carbon-Neutral Jet Fuel Process


Swiss researchers say they’ve figured out a way to make jet fuel out of thin air using solar power and can get the cost to as little as $5.25 a gallon. Digital Journal is reporting the researchers say they can make “solar kerosene” by extracting carbon dioxide and water from air and cracking it using solar energy into “syngas,” a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. That, in turn, can be turned into kerosene, methanol and a host of other hydrocarbons that are normally produced from oil and gas.

Because the process uses carbon dioxide from the air, the “solar kerosene” is carbon-neutral when it burns and will presumably meet all the standards for aviation use. The facilities needed to make the fuel on an industrial scale would be built in the desert. They would be huge but still only take up about 1 percent of the world’s millions of square miles of arid land. Even though the land is virtually worthless, the machinery and solar infrastructure would be very costly and would need to be funded by governments until the fuel could be produced on an economic scale and there is buy-in by the industry.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Doesn’t matter how you make the stuff. The haters will hate the fuel and continuously spread conspiracy theories about those involved. They can’t help themselves.

    • I don’t hate the fuel and I’m glad there will be some sort of a fallback if the Greeniacs continue their tirade against the developed world but the whole thing is nonsense.

      Fossil fuel remains plentiful and will be so for years and is much cheaper than this. The day will come we run low on oil but that will not be for generations.

  2. As a resident of “The Desert” I invite researchers to explain “virtually worthless”. From Switzerland, what looks like “worthless” and/or “desert” might be, shall we politely say, a misconception.

    • The ocean of solar panels in California’s Antelope Valley is already starting to lap at the developed areas, with clusters of homes becoming totally surrounded as what had been irrigated cropland is snapped up for subsidized “clean power”. Most people have no conception of how much area will be needed if we build out to the scale required for the proposed total solar future.

      • I showed up at Edwards AFB in 1972. I shoulda bought up all that land between Lancaster and Rosamond !! 🙂 I also remember the days when the 14 freeway was practically empty during evenings. NOW, it’s like the 405 north. Thankfully, I escaped in ’99.

  3. Paid for by government? They are not producers, so it should be stated, “paid for by people”. Good luck with this.

  4. Carbon Capture facilities would better serve the planet if located where CO2 is generated: ideally at carbon burning factories, generation stations and in urban centers.

    $5.25/gal is still twice the price airlines pay for Jet Fuel

    • Who would have thought. God’s plan for Creation works. We make CO2 and use O2. Plants convert it back. It’s all good. No need to cover the deserts to make gas out of plant food.

  5. You can do the “high tech” thing–spending billions just to show that it CAN be done–but it doesn’t really solve a problem in any way that makes economic sense.

    Years ago, we flew a Caravan to Antarctica–we traveled through Santareme, Brazil. The government wanted to start an alcohol industry–and it had to be “green.” They took the low-tech approach–rather than making fuel from corn or other food product, (“we won’t USE fuel to MAKE fuel!”) they elected to use sugar cane–it requires no cultivation, it has a very high density of plants in the tropics–it can be harvested by the simplest of machines (or by hand)–you can use the dried stalks to fire the distillery–and you can farm it on the same land for many years. The side benefit–like most plants, they thrive on captured CO2 and release oxygen. Finally, the government subsidy for alcohol was only for 10 years.

    Planting crops to scrub the air, to release oxygen, to provide the fuel to RUN the plant, is as close to producing “environmentally friendly” fuel as I have seen.

    Instead, we get proposals that would cost billions of dollars–take up a vast area of the world–and in the BEST CASE, you would have fuel that costs twice as much as the stuff they pump out of the ground. It HAS to be a GOVERNMENT PROJECT! (laugh)

    Does anybody else recall the term “Rube Goldberg”–finding outrageously complicated ways to do simple tasks?

    • While sugar cane and bamboo are the fastest growing grasses, they require large amounts of water and thus are restricted to the tropics. Corn, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum, rye, etc all all grasses.

      Trees are more efficient recarbonizers because their canopies occupy more volume and thus process more air. They can grow in more areas than grasses. Deforestation is a major problem.

      • Yes–they are restricted–but not to just the tropics. I mentioned this because Brazil was a country that actually PLANNED their alcohol experiment about their strong points–and they DO have abundant water–and sugar cane DOES grow in swamp land. Sugar can can be grown in the coastal lowlands of the US–no need to multi-billion dollar projects in the desert.

        Corn, wheat, barley, oatrs, sorghum, rye–ARE all grasses–but unlike sugar cane, they require extensive planting, care, and harvesting–often involving heavy equipment, which ITSELF adds cost to the process, and USES FUEL TO MAKE FUEL. Sugar beets can be used in cold climates–we even grow them here in Minnesota and North Dakota.

        The point is–all of these options EXIST–and all can be used on marginal land to produce biofuels LOCALLY, rather than far-out “out of thin air” processes.

        • Agree

          Experimental bacteria and fungi that recover CO2 from the air are being tested for grasslands (eg tundra & steppes), but trees are still the most efficient.

          Problem with sugar cane alcohol is that burning the bagasse to distill the alcohol, returns almost all the sequestered CO2 back into the atmosphere.

  6. Since CO2 is a trace gas in the atmosphere (less than 2%) I’m trying to imagine the volume of air that must be processed to produce just one gallon of fuel.

    • If the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 400 parts per million (ppm) which it is, and 10,000 ppm = 1% which it does, then the current atmospheric concentration is 400/10,000 = 0.04% not 2 percent. Pulling carbon dioxide out of such a dilute concentration would be a monumental and extremely energy requiring undertaking.

  7. I hate to break it to our Swiss friends, but there is nothing new or revolutionary about turning CO2 into useful hydrocarbons. The processes to do so have been around for over a century. I presume they propose locating the processing plants in the desert to take advantage of plentiful sunlight for power generation. But, desert air is relatively low in CO2 concentration and has very little water vapor. Using water as your source of hydrogen requires massive amounts of water. As Mr. Gloger pointed out above, why not locate the plant in an industrial area where point sources of high CO2 concentrations are plentiful? The whole concept sounds nice, but not very practical. If you are going to break water into hydrogen and oxygen, why not just eliminate the carbon and use the H2 as a primary fuel? Nature can assimilate the carbon if we just stop adding more CO2 that can be naturally absorbed.

  8. Since when has aviation technology been associated with ignorance? I thought aviation engineers from Europe were the leading experts on science and the latest knowledge? Well, it looks like our trusted engineers are throwing out grade school information to contribute to the latest propaganda that humans are causing a green house effect from CO2. Has any of these people looked at a grade school level pie chart of the earth’s atmosphere? Only 0.03% CO2 is in the atmosphere at one time. A greenhouse effect would happen if earth was more like Venus w/ over 40 to 50% CO2. This is impossible as our atmosphere scrubs itself through plants breathing out O2, and rain removes any excess CO2 from the air. Another scam right after the scamdemic vaccine panic.