Engineers say they have found way to create fuel ‘out of thin air’

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Scientists say they have developed a new system that can make fuel from sunlight and air.

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The new system is notable because it can operate in field conditions rather than laboratory specific and specific conditions.

Eventually, it could be used to make carbon-neutral fuels for things like aviation and shipping – but would require a significant amount of development and upconversion first, the engineers behind the discovery note.


The system is part of a wider effort to build new processes that could help reduce 8 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions from flying and shipping. One option is to create new drop-in fuels that would work like current kerosene or diesel but synthetically, out of water and carbon dioxide and powered by solar power.

Scientists have had some success creating individual parts of such a system. But building the whole thing in a way usable in real-world conditions has proven too difficult.

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Engineers Aldo Steinfeld and his colleagues built a working version of the system on the roof of ETH Zurich, the university where the research was conducted. It was composed of three pieces – an air capture unit that takes carbon dioxide and water from the air, a solar unit that captures solar energy and uses it to convert those materials into a mixture of carbon monoxide and oxygen, and The second unit turns that gas into a liquid so that it can be used as fuel.

If the system is scaled up enough, it could potentially meet the much-needed green kerosene demand that currently powers the aviation and shipping markets.

But it would require larger production plants – about 0.5 percent of the Sahara Desert – and the fuel would initially be more expensive than kerosene.

As such, there should be ways to support policy support and initial investment in fuel, they note.

The research is described in a new journal article ‘Drop-in fuels from sunlight and air’, published in Nature Today.


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