Germany’s Lufthansa Group is developing jet fuel made from ‘concentrated sunlight’, CO2 and water that could help alleviate flight shame by reducing the carbon footprint of air travel. Sam Ballard reports

Lufthansa, the German airline group, has started a research group that is looking to create jet fuel using concentrated sunlight, with the help of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) and its spin-offs, Clime-works and Synhelion.

Researchers and engineers at ETH Zurich have already developed a process by which they can extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Together with water and “concentrated sunlight”, it can be converted into a “synthesis gas” for the production of a jet fuel that only releases as much CO2 as was previously extracted from the atmosphere.

Unlike traditional fuel that is derived from crude oil, and is therefore unsustainable, this new solar fuel would be renewable.

How does it work? According to the Solar Fuels Network, sunlight can be used to “drive chemical reactions that make fuels, storing solar energy in the form of chemical bonds”.

It says: “Most simply, we can use sunlight to split water to make hydrogen – a clean, renewable fuel. We can also use sunlight to turn CO2 (a greenhouse gas) into useful fuels. The overall research challenge is to develop technologies that efficiently convert solar energy into ‘solar fuels’ (for example hydrogen or methanol).”Lufthansa solar fuel plane at sunsetAldo Steinfeld, professor for renewable energy carriers at ETH Zurich, says: “In contrast to other modes of transport, air transport will depend on sustainable liquid fuels in the foreseeable future. Their market launch requires a joint effort by fuel manufacturers and airlines.”

“[Our] Letter of Intent marks the intention of such a co-operation between ETH Zurich, the ETH spin-offs Climeworks and Synhelion and the Lufthansa Group Airlines to jointly address the challenges involved. This is intended to support the energy turnaround in aviation.”

Christina Foerster, executive board member of Deutsche Lufthansa AG, says: “With the planned co-operation, we are once again underlining the importance of Sustainable Aviation Fuels for the goal of achieving aviation with a balanced CO2 sheet.

“The Lufthansa Group has been working hard for years to make flying ever more sustainable. Thanks to the forward-looking technologies and the cooperation with innovative partners in already two of our home markets, we are on the right track.”

Since August 2019, Lufthansa Group has also been using the Compensaid online platform developed by the Lufthansa Innovation Hub to enable passengers to offset the CO2 emissions of flights, regardless of the airline they choose.

Globetrender has reported on the rise of “flight shaming” – a result of the environmental impact of travelling by air – and what airlines are doing to mitigate against it.

One of the biggest developments has been the investment that some carriers are putting in to concept aircraft models and electric planes. One such aircraft is Zer0, which has been nicknamed the “Tesla of the Skies”.

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