Carbon dioxide (CO2) is of course the same greenhouse gas flooding Earth’s atmosphere via the exhaust of jet engines and nearly anything else that burns fossil fuels. So, if this new chemical reaction can successfully turn CO2 into fuel for airplanes it could help reduce the carbon footprint of the aviation industry, which currently accounts for 12 percent of all global transportation carbon emissions.
It is noted that researchers have tried to turn CO2 into fuel in the past but that the chemical reactions that emerged from these efforts required rare and expensive catalysts such as cobalt. By contrast, the strength of this new technique is in large part due to its use of a relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain iron-based powder.
The iron catalyst allows the carbon atoms in the CO2 molecules to detach from oxygen and form bonds with the hydrogen atoms inside the reactor. These new hydrogen-carbon molecules, called hydrocarbons, are the same molecules that make up jet fuel. Meanwhile, most of the remaining oxygen atoms also hitch themselves to hydrogen atoms to become water.
According to the researchers, their process could open the door to carbon-neutral air travel, because burning jet fuel made in this way would release the same amount of carbon dioxide used to manufacture the fuel.