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A New Jet Fuel Made From 'Electrified CO2' Is Emissions-Free

Carbon-capture technology is growing up.

One of the cleanest fuels soon to come to the market uses the emissions it seeks to offset as part of its development process. Carbon transformation firm Twelve produced the first fossil-free jet fuel out of CO2, using electrolysis, a report from Green Car Congress reveals.

The fuel, called E-Jet, was developed with backing from the U.S. Air Force (USAF), and it has the potential to become a scalable, efficient method for reducing the aviation industry's environmental impact, which currently accounts for approximately 2 percent of global carbon emissions.

If you can't electrify an aircraft, electrify its fuel

On its website, Twelve points out that current electric airplane technology is limited and it can only handle large passenger flights of up to three hours. "Longer flights need a higher-density energy source than batteries can provide today," Twelve says. "So what can we do? Electrify the fuel." The E-Jet fuel essentially is made from electrified CO2. Twelve partnered with Fischer-Tropsch conversion experts Emerging Fuels Technology to develop their fossil-free fuel, which utilizes its carbon transformation technology. Crucially, E-Jet is a drop-in fuel, meaning it can be used in any existing aircraft without having to make any machinery adjustments.

As Twelve co-founder and CEO Nicholas Flanders puts it, the company has "essentially electrified the fuel instead through our electrochemical process, and the fuel drops right into existing commercial planes, allowing operators to instantly reduce their carbon footprint without any sacrifice to operating quality. Since you can't electrify the plane, we've electrified the fuel."

A massive boost for the aviation industry's climate efforts?

Twelve, which is named after the Carbon-12 isotope, the most abundant form of the element, was founded in 2015 by Stanford University students Dr. Etosha Cave, Dr. Kendra Kuhl, and Nicholas Flanders. The company developed a polymer-electrolyte membrane CO2 electrolyzer that splits CO2. All the electrolyzer needs to carry out the reaction is water and electricity, which the company sources from renewable energy providers. The process produces syngas (CO and hydrogen), as well as pure oxygen as a byproduct. E-Jet is an upgraded version of the syngas produced by Twelve, developed thanks to backing from the USAF and a recent $57 million Series A funding round. The company says that its system can be attached to existing industrial systems to extract CO2 and transform it into an e-fuel.  

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Following the IPCC's latest alarming report on climate change in August, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), announced a commitment this month to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Scientists worldwide are working hard to develop more sustainable means of transportation. In Germany, for example, a non-profit organization called Atmosfair recently opened the world's first synthetic kerosene production plant with the aim of testing the feasibility of the sustainable aviation fuel. If Twelve can deliver on its heady promise of producing e-fuel with carbon capture technology, that could be a massive boost for the aviation industry's efforts to reduce its impact on the environment.

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