CO2 was just converted into jet fuel and it could reshape aviation for good

  • Adam Bensaid
  • 28 Dec 2020

In 2018 alone, global aviation produced 1.04 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, or 2.5 per cent of all CO2 emissions in that year.

Britain from the Air - Cottam Power Station. ( Ian Hay / Cottam Power Station )

Global air travel has taken a hit due to the raging coronavirus pandemic changing the world and it isn’t expected to return to pre-covid levels until 2024. In spite of a historic 60 per cent decrease in global flights this year, the industry is still set to recover.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) projects that nearly 7.8 billion air travellers will take to the skies in 2036. For once however, a breakthrough by Carbon Sciences, an alternative fuel company, is set to boost profit while reducing climate emissions dramatically.

That’s critical because of how much carbon emissions aviation produces as a whole. For instance, the carbon footprint of one person flying a one-way flight from Istanbul and New York is a staggering 1.3 metric tons. To stop global warming from progressing any further, the maximum amount of carbon dioxide a person can produce a year ranges from 0.6 to 1.5 metric tons of CO2 a year.

Carbon Sciences claims it has pioneered a method to use carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to create necessary fuels like gasoline and jet fuel. If their method can prove its ability to scale up efficiently and cost-effectively, it could revolutionize the energy industry by providing abundant renewable energy-based fuel while reducing global carbon footprints.

"We are very excited about our novel process to transform CO2 into fuel," says company CEO Derek McLeish. "Based on our research to date, we believe that we will be able to demonstrate our technology within the next several months with a prototype that can convert a stream of CO2 into an immediately flammable liquid fuel."

Runaway warming

As the effects of globalization and a growing middle class are felt around the world, the demand for air travel is set for considerable growth. That poses serious challenges to the environment. By 2050, the aviation industry alone is expected to use up more than 25 per cent of the remaining carbon dioxide emissions humanity can produce while limiting global warming to no more than an additional 1.5 degrees celsius.

But why is keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees celsius so important?

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that global warming less than 1.5 degrees celsius has already caused double to triple the normal temperatures over the arctic. More dangerously, it reports that current warming has already contributed to more intense and frequent weather extremes.


Carbon Sciences developed a cutting-edge method to convert CO2 into fuel by running it through an iron catalyst with elements of potassium and manganese, hydrogen and citric acid. The CO2 and catalyst are heated to 350 degrees celsius, which forces a carbon atom to separate from the two oxygen atoms, after which it is bonded with hydrogen to produce a hydrocarbon. CO2 is very stable, and requires so much heat and pressure to break up it was not previously cost-effective to attempt it. But Carbon Sciences claims to have solved that problem.

Hydrocarbons are famously known for being the main constituents of fossil fuels. When burned, they produce heat and release carbon dioxide.

The more carbon in a fuel, the more heat it produces. For instance, gasoline has seven to ten carbon atoms in its molecular chain. Jet fuel has 10 to 16.

In 20 hours, the novel process converted 38 per cent of the CO2 in a pressurized chamber into jet fuel. The jet fuel itself was only 48 per cent of the total output, with the remaining 52 per cent consisting of water, propylene and ethylene. 

The jet-fuel would be effectively carbon neutral because it would release the same amount of CO2 that went into making it.

Most importantly, Carbon Sciences claims their method would actually be less expensive than other means of producing jet fuel, particularly electricity-intensive processes that convert hydrogen and water into fuel. 

Carbon Sciences doesn’t plan on setting up a filter in the sky to collect CO2. Instead, they want to install it next to oil refineries and coal power plants and capture the CO2 they produce.