Researchers say they've discovered how to turn carbon dioxide directly into synthetic jet fuel

Researchers from Oxford University say they've discovered a way to convert carbon dioxide directly into synthetic jet fuel.

If successful, the technique could one day make the aviation industry carbon neutral.

And one sustainable energy scientist believes New Zealand may be the perfect spot to produce these synthetic fuels.

Flying off to foreign lands - not a current COVID reality.

But pre-pandemic the aviation industry burnt 363 billion litres of fuel every year - and there's no climate-friendly alternative.

"For short-distance we will be able to electrify for example but if you talk about long-distance long-haulage we don't really have alternatives," says Victoria University of Wellington Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems Alan Brent.

Aviation emissions account for about 3 percent of global warming activity. But demand is predicted to soar as the middle classes in China and India grow.

So Oxford researchers are focussing on recycling carbon dioxide and claim they can convert it  - using an inexpensive iron-based catalyst - into synthetic jet fuel, creating a circular carbon-neutral aviation economy.

"It's viewed as part of a suite of approaches to mitigate climate change. It won't be the end, won't be the final story, there will be many other things and it might be a bridging technology as well," says Massey University Professor in Chemistry Shane Telfer.

Eight companies are already working on recycling carbon, including a Swiss company that's building capture facilities to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and Kiwi start-up Lanzatech which has a different way to turn industrial waste gases into ethanol.

Now based in America, Lanzatech provided the fuel that partially powered Richard Branson's first biofuel flight.

"In the next decade these fuels may become competitive with our traditional fuels," Prof Brent says.

Prof Brent believes they could be made in New Zealand - perhaps at the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter if it closes, or by repurposing the Marsden Point oil refinery, or capturing CO2 at a geothermal power plant.

The catch - it would use all of the electricity currently generated in New Zealand.

But that doesn't deter the scientists.

"These new technologies are much more efficient and recyclable and sustainable, so if they do make the grade then they will be a better solution," Prof Telfer says.

So when you do eventually take that overseas trip - you might be able to fly with a clean conscience.

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