KEROSENE FROM THE LABORATORY ROOF
Aircraft are powered by kerosene, which, like any fossil fuel, produces emissions. This is why the industry has long been researching alternatives to make aviation more environmentally friendly. Bio-kerosene from plants is now being complemented by a revolutionary concept known as “Sun to Liquid”: a reactor that produces kerosene from sun, water and carbon dioxide.
Despite the plethora of projects and ideas, electricity will not be able to power larger commercial aircraft in the foreseeable future due to the heavy weight of the batteries. There is still no way around the traditional fuel kerosene. One idea is therefore to produce kerosene synthetically, i.e. without crude oil. The revolutionary “Sun to Liquid” method could mean a breakthrough in fuel research. It produces kerosene, as the name suggests, from solar power. The other necessary “ingredients” are water and carbon dioxide (CO2). If the required CO2 is extracted from the surrounding air beforehand, this even compensates for the greenhouse gases generated later during combustion, making the fuel climate neutral.
This process was devised by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich. In collaboration with other project partners, they first installed a mini refinery on the roof of their machine laboratory. Here, CO2 and water are extracted directly from the surrounding air and split using solar energy. Syngas – a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide – is the product, which is then processed into kerosene, methanol or other hydrocarbons.
Photos: Aero Engines, ETH Zürich