Using solar energy to transform CO2 into jet fuel need of hour, say experts

Tribune News Service

Naina Mishra

Chandigarh, July 30

Climate change concerns and strict environmental rules to deplete fossil-derived fuels have created significant opportunities and major scientific challenges for transforming CO2 into sustainable fuels, especially for the aviation sector.

Decarbonising aviation sector

  • The carbon neutral fuel uses only water, CO2 and sunlight to power jet engines
  • Can reduce dependence on fossils, decarbonise aviation sector, say experts

The recent development of carbon neutral fuel by Swiss scientists that only uses water, carbon dioxide and sunlight to power jet engines is a major success in this area. At high temperature, carbon dioxide and water dissociate into hydrogen, carbon monoxide and oxygen. The hydrogen and carbon monoxide mixture, known as synthesis gas or ‘syngas’, can then be converted into liquid hydrocarbons such as petrol or kerosene

Experts suggest that it has a potential to reduce our heavy dependence on fossil fuels and also reduce carbon footprint in the aviation sector, which is a step towards decarbonisation and resolve energy crisis.

“The conversion of CO2 and H2O to syngas and itself is not new. But the prototype implementation reported in the recent development is a game changer — a disruptive technology with great potential to provide carbon-neutral fuels, especially if the CO2 required is extracted from the atmosphere,” said Dr Lipika Kabiraj, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Ropar.

Dr Kabiraj says that once jet fuel generated using solar energy is used in aviation, carbon captured (CO2 from atmosphere) will be released again. Although emissions are not reduced, the use of kerosene from the new process reduces the dependence of aviation sector on fossil fuel and ideally does not produce more carbon in the atmosphere than what was already existing. She suggested that the method must be combined with other carbon capture/sustainable/low emission technologies to reduce the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere in the long run. However, in reducing the use of fossil fuels, it is a step in the right direction towards decarbonisation.

The IIT-Ropar professor said India being the ninth-largest aviation market, there was a huge responsibility on it to draw up and implement significant regulations to keep CO2 emissions in check. The Indian civil aviation industry contributes about 1 per cent of total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which is considerably less than the global average.

“The country can definitely harness the potential of solar energy in generating fuel to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and also help with country’’s energy crisis,” she said.

Dr Ravindra Khaiwal, a top environmental scientist from PGI, said: “Sustainable aviation fuels are crucial to decarbonising the sector. When burnt, fuels release as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as they absorb when created. Therefore, no additional CO2 is emitted. A study by Nature (a leading multidisciplinary science journal) estimates ‘solar kerosene’ will cost $1.35-$2.2 per litre once mass-produced. High initial investment expenses and an unproven business plan are obstacles, but the technique also has environmental benefits. In India, sunlight will make deserts a great production site.”

Prof Vasundhara, Head of Chemistry Department from Punjab Engineering College, said: “This will be a clean source of fuel which can be used in the aviation sector conceptually. Upscaling for the redox catalyst used is further needed for commercialisation of technology. This will be an efficient jet fuel refinery. Also, it is carbon neutral due to which it will address the issue of climate change.”

#climate change #Environment

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