EU project develops ‘solar’ kerosene as a clean jet fuel

30 Apr 2014

A European Union (EU)-funded scientific project has developed a clean energy jet fuel which it describes as ‘solar’ kerosene because solar energy replaces traditional fossil fuels.

A company called SOLAR-JET – an acronym for solar chemical reactor demonstration and optimisation for long-term availability of renewable jet fuel – has taken on the project, which has reportedly produced the world’s first ‘solar’ jet fuel from water and carbon dioxide (CO2).

The engine will work by using the sun’s energy as the high-temperature energy source to take the mixture of water and carbon dioxide, known as syngas, and convert it into kerosene by Shell using the established ‘Fischer-Tropsch’ process.

The team behind the fuel hopes that in future, any liquid hydrocarbon fuels could be produced from just these three ingredients and help consumers move away from traditional fossil fuel kerosene that is used in current jet engines, something which contributes 2pc of the world’s greenhouse gases each year.

Similar aims to bring cleaner renewable energy to one of the most common forms of transport have already been undertaken – such as the recent Solar Impulse 2 aircraft – but entirely solar planes do not have the power to replace current jet engines.

However, while the first example of the fuel has been developed, the SOLAR-JET team has reiterated that it is still in the experimental stage, as they have only been able to produce an amount equivalent to filling a glass.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, said this technology means we might one day produce cleaner and plentiful fuel for planes, cars and other forms of transport.

“This could greatly increase energy security and turn one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming into a useful resource,” she added.

The four-year project, which launched in June 2011, is receiving €2.2m of EU funding. It will now move onto its next phase by optimising the solar reactor and assessing whether the technology will work on a larger scale and at competitive cost.

Jet engine image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic