ENVIRONMENT

The scientists who are changing the future of air travel

Every year the UK releases around 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide -just from airplanes – according to the Stern Report. As the aviation industry grows, so does its impact on the environment, making it now the fastest-growing contributor to CO2 emissions.

CO2 is an essential gas that’s needed in the process of creating jet fuel. It’s most commonly created by burning fossil fuels, yet it is an abundant atmospheric gas. Until now, scientists have been unable to create an inexpensive method of capturing this gas and converting it into jet fuel hydrocarbons.

I spoke to Dr Tiancun Xiao, CEO of Oxford Sustainable Fuels and Senior Research Fellow for Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Oxford, about what this research means. I spoke to Dr Xiao alongside Professor Peter Edwards, who was the former Head of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Oxford.

Their research, which was conducted alongside other scientists at the university, has the ability to create carbon neutral flights. The process of Carbon Capture is a method that the two scientists began designing together ten years ago. Professor Edwards said: “It always struck us… this idea of burying huge amounts of CO2 surely can’t be right. […] Future generations will probably say – is this the best you could come up with?”

They expect that within 2-3 years, the new type of sustainable fuel is likely to start developing on a commercial scale for big airlines such as British Airways.

Like many other scientific developments, the Oxford scientists have a problem of funding. They are relying on government funding to start a pilot plant where they will be able to accurately test the commercial viability of the new fuel.

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