Scientists say they have developed a new system that can generate fuel from sunlight and air.
The new system is significant in that it can operate under domain conditions rather than the special and specific conditions of a laboratory.
Eventually, it could be used to make carbon-neutral fuels for aviation and shipping, but the engineers behind the invention note say it will require significant growth and improvement first.
The system is part of a broader effort to create new processes that will help reduce humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions by 8 percent from aircraft and ships. Creating new direct fuels like today’s kerosene or diesel is an option, but artificially, powered by water and carbon dioxide and solar energy.
Scientists have had some success in creating individual parts of such a system. But it has been proven that it is very difficult to create everything that can be used in real world conditions.
Engineers Aldo Steinfield and his colleagues developed the operational version of the system on the roof of the university ETH Zurich, where research was conducted. It is made up of three pieces: an air capture unit that takes in carbon dioxide and water from the air, and a solar unit that captures solar energy and converts those materials into a mixture of carbon monoxide and oxygen, and another unit. The gas turns into a liquid so it can be used as fuel.
If this system is adequately expanded, it will be able to meet the demand for kerosene, which currently operates the air and shipping markets.
But it will require about 0.5 percent of the larger production plants in the Sahara Desert, and the fuel will initially be more expensive than kerosene.
Therefore, they point out that there must be political support and ways to support an initial investment in fuel.
The investigation is described in a new journal article published today entitled “Fuels from sunlight and air”. Natural.