"This is the future of aviation," Oskar Meijerink tells me in a restaurant at Rotterdam airport.

Plane Fuel
Photo by Jose Lebron / Unsplash

His company, in partnership with the airport's owners, is planning the world's first commercial production of jet fuel made, in part, from greenhouse gas (CO2).

Based at the airport, it'll work by capturing greenhouse emission, the gas which contributes to global warming, from the air.

In a separate process, electrolysis splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is mixed with the captured greenhouse emission to create syngas, which can be transformed into jet fuel.

The pilot plant, which purposes to produce 1,000 liters of jet fuel each day, will get its energy from solar panels.

Photo by Aaron Barnaby / Unsplash

The partners in the project hope to produce the first fuel in 2021.

They argue that their jet fuel will have a much smaller greenhouse emission impact than regular fuel.

Louise Charles, from Climeworks, The company which provides direct air capture technology says that the beauty of direct air capture is that the greenhouse emission is reused once more, and again, and again. The main element is the cost. Fossil jet fuel is relatively cheap. Capturing carbon dioxide from the air is still a nascent technology and expensive.

Other companies are working on similar direct capture systems, as well as Carbon Engineering in Canada and US-based World Thermostat.

However, environmental campaigners are highly skeptical.

Jorien De Lege from Friends of the Earth said that it sure did
sound amazing. It sounded like a solution to all of our problems - except that it was not. If you thought about it, that demonstration plant could produce a thousand liters each day based on renewable energy. That was about 5 minutes of flying in a Boeing 747.

"It'd be a mistake to think that we can keep flying the approach that we do since we can fly on the air. That's never going to happen. It's always getting to be a niche." He added.

While companies are experimenting with high tech ways to capture greenhouse emission from the air, there's already an extremely simple, efficient way to do it - growing plants. And aircraft are already flying on renewable fuels made up of plant biomass.

Sugar cane, grasses or palm oil, and even animal waste products - effectively anything that contains carbon - can be processed and used.

But are these alternative fuels are never going to replace traditional fossil jet fuel?

"Yes, but it's very difficult to set a time frame," says Joris Melkert, senior lecturer in aerospace engineering at the Delft University of Technology.

He says that alternative fuels will become competitive if the environmental costs are built into the cost of flying, but that will mean costlier tickets.

"It'll highly rely upon social pressure but there are no technical objections."
"Basically if you look at the ways to make transport more sustainable, aviation is the hardest to change."

Air travel accounts for between 3 and 5% of the global carbon dioxide emissions and those emissions are growing fast.

Photo by Chris Leipelt / Unsplash

Looking for choices

In response, aviation's industry body (Iata) has set targets to diminish emissions by 500th by 2050 and airlines are exploring a lot of ways to cut back on the use of fossil fuels.

The Scandinavian airline SAS aims to run domestic flights on biofuels and cut emissions by 25th within the next ten years.

KLM is actually encouraging people not to fly and suggests customers might want to take the train or hold video conferences over the internet.

And recently Dutch low-cost carrier Transavia started weighing passengers at Eindhoven airport, in an experiment designed to better calculate the amount of fuel needed with the aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Transavia will also be the first client for the jet fuel made by the experimental operation at Rotterdam airport.

Originated source - BBC News.