Engineers from ETH Zürich – the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology created a new system that makes low-carbon fuel out of thin air and sunlight as the only ingredients.
The system consists of a capture unit that takes CO2 and water from the air, a solar unit that captures solar energy and uses it to turn those materials into a mixture of carbon monoxide and oxygen. There is also a third unit that turns the resultant gas from the process into a liquid that could be used as a low-carbon fuel.
The new system is an improvement from the previous one as it is working in field conditions, rather than in specific and specialized conditions like in a laboratory. Scientists are trying to create new low-carbon fuels that could help reduce the 8% of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions coming from flying and shipping.
The fuels made by researchers in Zurich can work as the current kerosene or diesel but are created only out of CO2 and water and the process is powered by solar energy. If scaled at a commercial level, the fuels could potentially satisfy the demand for the much less green kerosene that currently powers the aviation and shipping sectors.
However, for that to happen, large production plants are needed that would take roughly 0.5% of the Sahara Desert and the fuel would initially be more expensive than the kerosene. The technology would also need policy support to boost deployment.
The new system created to produce low-carbon fuel is unique in its way to use only air as an input. That would significantly lower materials costs going forward. It would also ensure the reduction of emissions from sectors like aviation that find it hard to utilize ways that could speed up the transition into the green economy.