Making Aircraft Fuel from Sunlight and Air

The chemical process is powered by solar energy. (ETH Zürich/Alessandro Della Bella)

Carbon-neutral fuels are crucial for making aviation and maritime transport sustainable. Scientists at ETH Zurich have built a plant that can produce carbon-neutral liquid fuels from sunlight and air. The plant can be used to produce synthetic liquid fuels that release as much CO2 during their combustion as was previously extracted from the air for their production.

CO2 and water are extracted directly from ambient air and split using solar energy. This process yields syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which is then processed into kerosene, methanol, or other hydrocarbons.

Desert regions with high solar resources are particularly suitable as production sites. Unlike with biofuels, whose potential is limited due to the scarcity of agricultural land, this technology uses less than one percent of the world’s arid land and would not compete with the production of food or livestock feed.