Carbon-neutral fuels are now a step closer to being a reality

It has long been what can best be called the Holy Grail of energy research: Producing fuels that are truly carbon-neutral and don’t release carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. And thanks to the efforts of two groups of researchers, that dream is now within reach.

At the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, a team of scientists led by Professor Xile Hu at the Laboratory of Inorganic Synthesis and Catalysis (LSCI) recently made a discovery that shows great promise, Science Daily reports:

“The chemists have recently made a landmark discovery, successfully developing a high-efficiency catalyst that converts dissolved CO2 into carbon monoxide (CO) — an essential ingredient of all synthetic fuels, as well as plastics and other materials.”

The process used by the Swiss team has one major benefit over previous technologies, according to Professor Hu:

“To date, most catalysts have used atoms of precious metals such as gold. But we’ve used iron atoms instead. At extremely low currents, our process achieves conversion rates of around 90%, meaning it performs on a par with precious-metal catalysts.”

Meanwhile, another group of scientists has also reached a goal that could well revolutionize the kind of fuels we use in future, according to Interesting Engineering:

“Researchers from ETH Zurich have produced liquid hydrocarbon fuels exclusively from sunlight and air. The scientists have developed a solar plant to produce synthetic liquid fuels that release as much COduring their combustion as previously extracted from the air for their production.”

Aldo Steinfeld, Professor of Renewable Energy Carriers at ETH Zurich, remarked:

“This plant proves that carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels can be made from sunlight and air under real field conditions. The thermochemical process utilizes the entire solar spectrum and proceeds at high temperatures, enabling fast reactions and high efficiency,”

On a larger scale, a production plant such as the one located on the roof of ETH’s Machine Laboratory building in Zurich could produce enough carbon-free fuel to power a fleet of airplanes:

“Theoretically, a plant the size of Switzerland — or a third of the Californian Mojave Desert — could cover the kerosene needs of the entire aviation industry. Our goal for the future is to efficiently produce sustainable fuels with our technology and thereby mitigate global CO2 emissions.”

Both of these groundbreaking discoveries could also play an important role in helping the world rid itself of fossil fuels which are harmful to the environment and, in the case of oil, a finite resource that is quickly being used up as the world’s need for energy increases.

Featured Image Via Wikimedia Commons



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Andrew Bradford

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