Airplanes nowadays emit large amounts of climate-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. However, there is a possibility that someday the carbon dioxide sucked from the atmosphere could be used to power airplanes.

It has been reported that a new catalyst based on iron converts carbon dioxide into jet fuel. As planes cannot carry batteries big enough to run on electricity from wind or solar power like cars, using CO2 instead of oil to make jet fuel, could reduce the carbon footprint of air travel industry which currently accounts for 12 percent of the total transportation-related emission of CO2.

According to the sources of knowledge, previous attempts of converting carbon dioxide into fuel relied majorly on catalysts based on relatively expensive materials such as cobalt and involved multiple steps of chemical processing. On the other hand, this new iron-based catalyst powder is inexpensive and is capable of transforming CO2 in a single step.

Further, the catalyst when placed in a reaction chamber with carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas allows separation of carbon and oxygen from the CO2 molecules and link up with hydrogen, thereby producing the hydrocarbon molecules which make up jet fuel. The leftover oxygen atoms from the CO2 join up with other hydrogen atoms to form water.

For the record, Tiancun Xiao, a chemist at the University of Oxford along with the colleagues conducted tests on the new catalyst on carbon dioxide inside a small reaction chamber set at a temperature of 300° Celsius and pressure of nearly 10 times that of the air pressure at sea level. After a duration of 20 hours, the catalyst converted 38 percent of the carbon dioxide available inside the chamber to new chemical products.

Reportedly, around 48 percent of those chemical products were jet fuel hydrocarbons and the other by products comprised of similar petrochemicals such as propylene and ethylene, which can further be utilized for producing plastics.

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