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Clean aviation fuels advance in the UK

May 1, 2022
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Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Wisconsin companies can explore a wide variety of research, development and infrastructure-related partnerships with UK companies on green energy initiatives.

UK researchers are working on green technologies that can help fuel the future of global aviation—and reduce its impact on climate change.

British chemicals corporation Johnson Matthey has unveiled a new technology, HyCOgen, that converts captured carbon dioxide and green hydrogen into sustainable aviation fuel using technology developed in collaboration with the British Petroleum (BP) energy company.

The reverse water gas process turns carbon dioxide and green hydrogen into carbon monoxide, which is blended with additional hydrogen to create a synthetic gas. The synthetic gas is converted into synthetic crude oil, which can be upgraded into products such as aviation fuel and renewable diesel fuel.

Johnson Matthey claims that as much as 95% of the captured carbon dioxide can be turned into sustainable aviation fuel using the technologies, and it says the system could be scaled up for cost-effective industrial use. In December 2021, the first flight was held using jet fuel produced through the company’s process.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute has developed a design for a midsize jet plane fueled by liquid hydrogen that could handle long-distance flights—such as London to San Francisco—with just one stop, at the same speed and comfort level as current airplanes, with no carbon emissions.

The proposal comes from FlyZero, a joint project of the UK government and private industry to achieve zero-carbon air transportation. Alternative designs being developed include smaller, regional aircraft, also powered by liquid hydrogen.

“At a time of global focus on tackling climate change, our midsize concept sets out a truly revolutionary vision for the future of global air travel keeping families, businesses and nations connected without the carbon footprint,” FlyZero project director Chris Gear said.

The FlyZero project is currently undergoing a feasibility study, and a report is expected sometime in 2022, analyzing aircraft design, economic viability and technology roadmaps.

The global aviation sector currently accounts for about 12% of world carbon emissions, and the race is on to bolster decarbonization efforts now that many countries—including the U.S.—have set strict goals to reach net-zero-emission flights over the coming decades.

HyCOgen and FlyZero are among several concepts unveiled over the last few years that claim to revolutionize air travel with green hydrogen as a base. One of the core principles of the FlyZero project is that rapid investment in cleaner, longer-haul flights could spur infrastructure overhauls at airports.

This sector could present opportunities for Wisconsin companies to enter into a wide variety of research, development and infrastructure-related partnerships with UK companies and stakeholders.

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