I do think this is the way aviation is going to go

RAF tests green fuel made of ‘air and water’ to power the planes of tomorrow
Success in first flight running on synthetic fuel, created with renewable energy and which could save up to 90pc of carbon per journey

Hmm:

UL91 is made by Zero Petroleum and manufactured by extracting hydrogen from water and carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide. Using energy generated from renewable sources such as wind or solar, these are combined to create the synthetic fuel.

Electrolyse the water, you’ve green H2. From which you can build whatever complex hydrocarbons you want.

Yes, might well be expensive at present. But get solar power cheap enough – and this is an area where intermittency isn’t a problem, nor Hz on the grid, etc – and it works economically. Because we do value the ability to fly. So, we’ll pay handsomely for the ability to do that. At least in any sensible application a ‘plane powered by this sorta stuff (this is avgas, not jet fuel, but if you can make one then you can the other) won’t pay APD so that’ll cover at least some of any extra cost.

All the Puritans horrified at the ability of the proles to get a week on a sunny beach are going to be most disappointed of course but that just adds to the fun of watching it.

Me, I predict an absolute surge in synthetic fuels this next decade.

58 thoughts on “I do think this is the way aviation is going to go”

  1. Then it’s possible to make motor fuel out of it & not have to change the entire vehicle fleet & it’s associated energy delivery system

  2. Why use atmospheric Co2? Why not capture it straight from the power plants that create it? It must be very inefficient to capture 400ppm CO2 from the atmosphere compared to the greater concentrations of a CO2 emitter.

  3. Aren’t there issues with dumping lots of water up there? I’m sure I read that at high altitudes it has a worse greenhouse effect than CO2. I might be misremembering/misunderstanding things though.

  4. But Raffles – that would mean the power plant CO2 wouldn’t be captured and stored! All the money spent on CCS would be wasted!

  5. Water vapour is a greenhouse gas but it doesn’t stay as vapour for very long. It condenses into droplets and forms clouds which have a cooling effect instead.

  6. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    Since civil aviation emissions are a rounding error, in fact somewhat less than netflix, Zoom and online porn, why bother?

  7. If the demonisation of “carbon” based on computer models of complex non-linear systems which clearly cannot make accurate predictions (and who know when – or if – they will ever be able to) is the basis of the “economics”, then monumental clusterfuck is absolutely guaranteed.

    If something is to be “green” by such criteria, then it must be “decarbonised” at every stage right down to the paper the monumentally overpaids grifters – sorry “consultants” – behind all this wipe their arses with.

    This is what “net zero” means if it is to mean anything in reality. No “carbon”, not an atom, anywhere in any process or supply chain.

    Meanwhile, back on planet earth…….I strongly suspect that the only thing fundamentally driving this insanity is that nobody want to be the first to point out that the king has no clothes.

  8. I’m very concerned about co2, there’s no where near enough of it to feed the plants we all depend on. We should be aiming for 800ppm.

  9. “Aren’t there issues with dumping lots of water up there? ”
    Do you have any idea the mass of water in even a small cloud? Sheesh! The problem’s less than trivial.

  10. Good news for diesel engines. I think I am correct in saying that diesel engines can run on jet fuel. If this can be scaled up to meet aviations needs then it would not take much more money and effort to meet the needs of people needing to use diesel engines.

    However, do not tell the environmentalists. The poor dears might have a fit and need hospitalisation.

  11. This is utter lunacy…

    Why not use the electricity from renewables to do other stuff? Using electricity to create ‘fuel’ is just bonkers.

    How much renewables would we need to replace Avgas, let alone Jet 100 – you’d be covering half the planet with solar panels and bird choppers…

  12. It’s Physics Cap’n and ye cannae change the laws of Physics.

    Hydrogen from water, carbon from atmospheric carbon dioxide. These are mixed and burned in air reacting with atmospheric oxygen to produce what?

    What happens to the carbon? Carbon and hydrogen in fossil fuels mix with atmospheric oxygen to give, among other things, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide and water vapour. So won’t hydrogen and carbon reacting with atmospheric oxygen do the same?

    What is the advantage?

    We have this: “eliminate fossil CO2 emissions from a number of difficult but critical sectors,f

    Does this mean CO2 emissions are OK as long as not from fossil fuels, just as CO2 from burning wood is OK?

    And… atmospheric water vapour (about 2% to 4%) provides 95% of the so-called greenhouse effect. How can adding to it decrease global warming? Supposedly it is the increase in atmospheric water vapour brought about by C02 warming that is the problem. CO2 itself does not warm, but atmospheric water molecules do when the outgoing long wavelength infrared deflected by CO2 collides with them.

    ‘ But get solar power cheap enough – and this is an area where intermittency isn’t a problem…’

    Oh? So this miracle fuel can only be manufactured when sunlight conditions are optimal – won’t intermittency of manufacture be a problem? How do you think intermittent supplies of petrol and diesel would work?

    When will people start to understand just how much energy motor fuels provide, and if you are going to replace this with whatever – electricity, magic fuel, that is a shed-load you need and it has to be constant.

    As for solar energy needed to produce hydrogen from water and carbon from atmospheric CO2 in sufficient quantities to replace the shed-load of fossil fuels, requires a shed-load ++ of solar energy that will be needed. Where will it come from?

  13. Wasn’t there a discernible temperature effect after 9/11 when the US shut down all civil aviation? No contrails. It got warmer, I think. If my memory is right, aviation is a net cooler!

  14. Me, I predict an absolute surge in attempts at making synthetic fuels this next decade. All of them failing due to cost.

  15. “When will people start to understand just how much energy motor fuels provide,”

    Thanks to the current state of edumacation most people aren’t even capable of calculating their change without a calculator app…
    What makes you think they’re capable of understanding anything beyond that?

  16. One can of course use good old nukes to provide the power. That way there’ll be plenty of fuel for ME!!!!!, and everyone else as well.

    This is about the only rational way to get to net zero. The extra expense is handled by the growth in global GDP. Thus I can keep my 25? year old car!!!

    One is naturally amused at the utter horror of the woke if this was introduced. The vile plebs would still be roaring around in cars or on motor bikes. The horrid stench of combustion would still foul the air.

    Industrialisation of the world would continue unabated. Indeed perhaps the former Third Worlders might provide us with a bit of foreign aid to drag us out of the neo-Neanderthalism that the Greenies will have reduced us to.

  17. We’ve visited this subject before, haven’t we? If you wanted to make fuel out of sunlight, you cover a couple thousand square miles of the Sahara with solar panels. As a side benefit, as you’re desalinating seawater & piping it anyway, you could probably create a couple thousand square miles of irrigated farmland while you were at it.

  18. Well yes BiS. But I’m looking at my white hair as I remember the oil crisis.

    I really don’t want to have more oil wars with the Algerians or the Moroccans or whatever. Being a vile xenophobe, I just don’t think they’re worth the cost of the napalm needed to burn them alive.

    Maybe it’d be more expensive to build the stuff at home. But when you factor in the costs of the wars, and the huge army needed to protect the panels against guerrilla (or do they call them terrorists these days) attacks, I think building giant nuke powered oil refineries on the sea shore is the cheaper way to go.

  19. @Boganboy I do believe the interior of Ozland has plenty of real estate for solar farms, and the conditions to make them work efficiently.

    @Raffles Capturing CO2 from the atmosphere is so inefficient that I can have a box with a couple of kilos of it delivered in a couple of hours by doing tappety-tap on my keyboard..
    Unfortunately I don’t have any practical use for dry ice currently, but still….

  20. Day/night intermittency not an issue when creating liquid fuels ‘cos you can store them. And if you’re sensible you don’t put the solar panels in Northern Europe, but somewhere land is cheaper, there’s more solar irradiance and less winter/summer intermittency. The southern third of Australia’s Northern Territories covered in solar panels would provide enough energy — total energy, not just electricity — to meet global requirements*. And it’s pretty much all desert, so it’s not like you’re losing the use of the land for anything else. Similar calculations show that one third of New Mexico would provide all of the US’s total energy requirements.

    *Solar power factor in NT between 20 and 25deg S is ~1900kWh per year per kW of installed capacity. 1kW of installed capacity is approx 5.5sqm, or 345kWh/annum/sqm or 345GWh/annum/sqkm. Total global energy usage is ~ 140,000 TWh/annum, so 400,000 sqkm is needed; NT is 1,400,000 sqkm, so the southern third of it is sufficient. There’s a similar amount of Western Australia that produces similarly high solar power factors…

  21. What has the RAF got to say about avgas? It’s my impression that aside from University Air Squadrons (do they still exist?) and the BBMF they have an all-turbine fleet. The aircraft in the article is a civil microlight C42.

  22. @ Grikath

    The problem with Australia is that as soon as you build a successful Solar to Fuel business in the interior there will be a bunch of Aborigines making a claim to it. They will insist that it is built on tribal land and that you need to pay them, the extra special central Australian tribe, 50% of all profits for the next thousand years.

    Of course you can always tell them to rack off but that is when all the white woke folks decide that it is only moral to have sympathy for them.

  23. The southern third of Australia’s Northern Territories covered in solar panels would provide enough energy — total energy, not just electricity — to meet global requirements*. And it’s pretty much all desert, so it’s not like you’re losing the use of the land for anything else.

    I’ve no doubt that, were this proposed then there would be a spate of suddenly-remembered “sites of special cultural significance” found all over the desert.

  24. @Boganboy
    I’ve been to Algeria. Problem with the oil & gas industry there is it doesn’t really do much for Algerians. The employment, what there is of it, is largely foreign technical so there’s not much trickledown to the ordinary Algerian. If this was a serious project, that new agricultural land would be part of it. That’s where CO2 feedstock for the fuel synthesis comes from. Grow plants, burn the plant material, capture the CO2. So there’s a wide diversity of employment opportunities. All sorts of construction, land management, all the service industries that would be needed. People in that part of the world would be getting wealthier so quickly they wouldn’t be interested in terrorism. The driver for terrorism tends to be the disaffected poor.

  25. Over at Bishop Hill there are claims that subterranean coal seam fires account for 1% of all CO2 emissions and go in the ‘natural emissions’ column. That’s about one third of the amount of human emissions. We could solve the whole problem by putting them out. Which is not a trivial problem but it can’t be harder than some of the other proposed actions. Of course it’s not really a problem so nothing needs to be done, but at least let’s not do something really stupid and expensive

  26. @Bloke in Cyprus
    “Using electricity to create ‘fuel’ is just bonkers.”

    No it’s a great use of solar. To reach their true potential renewables need energy storage otherwise you end up throwing energy away when the sun shines and not having power when it does not. Also if you are going to go with solar you want to build it somewhere with a low latitude and decent climate and not somewhere northerly like the UK where it’s hopeless in winter. Choosing the right location (like Abu Dhabi) gives you several times the efficiency and consequently a fraction of the cost but it gives the problem of having to transport the stored energy to where it is needed. Transporting it either as fuel or green natural gas solves this and the storage problem too, and it’s what we already do.

    There is no shortage of solar energy. The Earth gets 25MW of solar energy for each human being.

  27. And don’t forget this is the habitat of the lesser-spotted fanged gecko of death, so you’ll have all the Swampies protesting if you cover it with solar panels.

    On the gripping hand, good idea. Provide all Swampie protesters with free tickets and all the fresh water they can carry.

    Job’s a goodun.

  28. @Salamander

    No doubt, but that would at least be a good excuse for not embarking on something so spectacularly impractical in reality – the reality of the practical engineering that would be required.

    And there is still night of course. Not sure what storage would or could be used in a flat, waterless desert. If massive lithium batteries are to burst into flames though, somewhere hundreds of miles from the population is probably the best place.

  29. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    “Thanks to the current state of edumacation most people aren’t even capable of calculating their change without a calculator app…”

    Yeah, this is really noticeable in the states. Buy a slice of mall pizza, comes to some stupid number due to the American habit of not quoting sales taxes in prices, say $7.62. Hand over $10 and 12 cents, common European habit for dumping small change, free entertainment watching bemused clerk try to work out what you have done.

  30. Build enough nuclear plants to supply peak demand.
    Use the surplus off peak to create fuel.
    No need for solar, wind or other unreliables.

  31. “I think I am correct in saying that diesel engines can run on jet fuel”

    Indeed they can. There are Jet A1 fueled diesel piston engines available for light aircraft.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMA_SR305-230

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thielert_Centurion

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilksch_WAM_series

    “University Air Squadrons (do they still exist?)”

    According to Flightradar24, there are a 4 Grobs of various types operating out of RAF Cranwell as I type this.

  32. I admit to the possibility of error here. But it’s not the CO2 out of air that’s the important part here. It’s energy, the H2. Once you’ve got that, cheap, then you can do lots. Use it to power fuel cells. Burn it in power stations. Build synthfuels (which is where the CO2 source comes in). The H2, in function, becomes the battery for the intermittency of solar and wind through electrolysis.

    Electrolysis is “inefficient”, yes, but still might be cheaper than batteries themselves.

    Once – once!- cheap green H2 then it’s not about pulling the CO2 even then. It’s whether pulling the CO2 to make synthfuels is cheaper than rebuilding the entire infrastructure to use H2 directly.

    That’s how I read the decision tree anyway.

  33. Oh, fuck off Connolley. A 747 burns about 2 1/2 litre of fuel a kilomenter. If it was running solely on H2, that’d be 2 1/2 litre of water. Or call it 3 if H2 is less efficient than jet fuel. (Any less efficient & airliners would be impractical) Wingspan of a 747 is 65m. So you’ve 65,000 m2 of sky to lose 3 litres in. Over 9 soccer pitches worth.

  34. It is all naïve nonsense from Tim.

    The plan is no cars and no flights for plebs along with massive reductions in human numbers and quality of life. Yes all sorts of stupid shite will be suggested to try and con you that the future will be the same as now but elec or h2 powered or whatever BS the wannabe Globo “elite” think will waste brainpower rambling about.

    But it is all hot air.

    The wannabe’s are forcing Europe into LD. The only issue is how are we gonna ignore and or fight them as needed. This winter is make/break. Break Blojob Johnsons BS this winter and he is fucked.

    Even more fucked than he already is.

  35. Dave Ward, I live on the approach to Cranwell. There are Grobs but they are 120s, which have turbines. The older piston Grobs do fly elsewhere apparently under civil reg..

  36. If this was a serious project, that new agricultural land would be part of it. That’s where CO2 feedstock for the fuel synthesis comes from. Grow plants, burn the plant material, capture the CO2.

    Eh? Is this process designed to be as inefficient as possible for Algerian job creation purposes?

    A 747 burns about 2 1/2 litre of fuel a kilomenter.

    12 litres per km according to Boeing.

  37. @ Tim

    “Electrolysis is inefficient”

    It’s reasonably good. You now get 80% of the energy stored as the hydrogen. A lithium battery can get to 95% but more solar panels is the cheap way to accommodate that 15% difference.

    Getting CO2 from the air works but getting it from sea water is cheaper with combined desalination and CO2 production being very attractive.

  38. I’m not sure this makes any sense, not that that will stop people. If you can pull CO2 out of the air, you’re probably better off storing it, and burning natural oil, rather than going to the trouble of making synthetic fuel out of it.

    You know a post and thread has descended into some sort of bizarre hell-world when William Connolley is a voice of sanity.

  39. @ rhoda klapp – I stand corrected about the TP variations, but there was a least one piston powered Grob 115 with a “UAH” callsign in the area at the time I looked. I guess it makes perfect sense to start your military training on a TP aircraft, because when you move on to something larger the engine controls & general operating procedures will already be familiar.

    As far as the original query about University squadrons, there is a MOD site all about them:

    https://www.raf.mod.uk/our-organisation/university-air-squadrons/

  40. UL91 is made by Zero Petroleum

    Maybe they’re genuine, maybe not. But overall the “renewable / sustainable” market is a bit like the dot com market. Multiple fortunes are made by creating viable sounding businesses designed solely to be purchased by bigger businesses / naïve investors excitedly tempted by new ventures / loads-a-money.

    That this is a market forced by government means more bandits, bigger fools and extra ruin.

  41. @The Meissen Bison

    “We need a second sun that shines at night.”

    Whilst that would help it’s easier to just double the number of solar panels so you build up a big enough reserve of hydrogen during the day to keep the back end fuel synthesis plant running continuously at full capacity. And don’t do it in the UK. Even on a sunny day 9 hours of weak winter sun is not going to prove cost effective.

  42. If Algeria were to become blessed with a cheap source of energy and irrigated fields of golden wheat swaying in the breeze, it wouldn’t be populated by Algerians for long. Emperor Xi would have other plans for it.

  43. My daughter got her wings (i.e. went solo) on a Grob Tutor in the CCF at school. But that was nearly 20 years ago and perhaps they are all now pensioned off.

    It’s a bit pointless making ‘green’ avgas as the demand is so low. It’s only useful if the light hydrocarbons produced are just an intermediate towards kerosene.

  44. @William Connolley
    “If you can pull CO2 out of the air, you’re probably better off storing it, and burning natural oil, rather than going to the trouble of making synthetic fuel out of it.”

    Indeed.

    I know that you encounter much rudeness here, but some of us welcome most comment.

  45. @William Connolley
    No rudeness here, just the point that storing CO2 is dangerous and untested. Lake Nyos disaster.
    And if you think deep storage of radioactive waste is a problem, remember that CO2 *never* decays. So really, you are just delaying its return to the atmosphere.
    So if you accept the whole Warbling thing, then building a closed cycle of atmospheric CO2–>fuel–>atmospheric CO2 makes sense.
    A great deal more sense than trying to use liquid hydrogen!
    And it avoids the need to be continually dependent upon oil-rich countries in Middle East….ah, that’s where the solar power is. Oh bother.
    Nuclear it is, then. Except perhaps for Oz, (tribal land extortion and endangerd newts excepting).

  46. @Mark
    If something is to be “green” by such criteria, then it must be “decarbonised” at every stage right down to the paper the monumentally overpaids grifters – sorry “consultants” – behind all this wipe their arses with.

    If something is to be “green” by such criteria, then it must be “decarbonised” at every stage right down to the monumentally overpaids grifters – sorry “consultants”.

    FIFY

  47. @PJF
    2 1/2 litres/12 litres. It makes no difference. It’s spread over 65,000 m2 of sky. If it was paint it wouldn’t paint a decent sized ceiling. It’s beyond trivial. Even those whispy little clouds up there contain water massing hundreds of tons.

  48. @BiS For cloud “cover” and heating effects it’s not the clouds, but the thin haze that has the most effect. As can be felt and noticed by quite natural cloud phenomena, including those that produce those lovely halo’s around the sun and moon.

    Contrails add to that haze, and the reduction in air travel has noticeably changed the day/night temperature amplitude, at least under the major traffic lanes.

    Whether this has any global effect is debatable, but the local effects most definitely can and have been quantified.

  49. 2 1/2 litres/12 litres. It makes no difference.

    Yeah, but I was never going to let that go. This is the internet.

    As Grikath points out, it’s the haze wot does it. This NASA piece is relevant to the conversation:

    https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2601/nasa-test-jet-biofuel-may-reduce-climate-warming-clouds/

    It contains an amazing pub-worthy factoid:
    “Although cirrus clouds serve as cooling sunshades during the day, they also act as warming blankets both day and night, preventing the Earth from cooling off after the day’s sunbathing as much as it would without the clouds. In fact, the cirrus clouds formed by the world’s aircraft on an average day have a greater warming impact than all the carbon dioxide that aircraft have emitted since the Wright Brothers made the first powered flight in 1903.”

    Fucking hell, CO2 is pathetic.

  50. “In fact, the cirrus clouds formed by the world’s aircraft on an average day have a greater warming impact than all the carbon dioxide that aircraft have emitted since the Wright Brothers made the first powered flight in 1903.”
    They measured this? No? Modelled it? Right

    What I see is someone with a well paid job working for the US government & determined to keep it. And whilst the world’s full of credible people, he should make his pension.

  51. You’re missing the forest for the trees. It doesn’t really matter whether what he’s saying is correct, or why he’s saying it; it’s what he – as a part of the global warming establishment – is saying.

    – All the carbon dioxide produced by all the aircraft that have ever flown over more than a century doesn’t add up to the effect of one typical day’s world aircraft contrails.

    He’s saying right there that carbon dioxide is a miniscule problem.

    Thanks NASA!

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