back to article Pull jet fuel from thin air? We can do that, say scientists

The aviation industry's attempts to go green are getting a boost from an unlikely place: carbon-neutral jet fuel pulled from thin air. That may seem far-fetched, but it's a concept that engineers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) have not only proved experimentally, but apparently proven again at scale. Even …

  1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Efficiency doesn't really matter if the energy is "free", as long as it can scale to produce reasonable quantities. If it could produce a liquid fuel for road transport that would be even better, since it could be distributed via existing networks.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The challenge for road networks is one of scale. Jet fuel is between 12% and 14% of global fuel consumption, and there is no feasible prospect of battery- or hydrogen-powered aircraft any time soon. They must use a hydrocarbon-based fuel for the foreseeable.

      When you factor in the efficiency loss of combustion vs electric motors, from a whole-system perspective pure electric vehicles are best, so if you're building a boatload of new generation capacity to meet the needs of an evolving fleet you focus on EVs were you can. Liquid fuels (whether syngas or H2) should generally be reserved for the areas we know we're going to need them - aircraft, steel, fertiliser, construction and so on - rather than the domestic road networks.

      We also shouldn't forget that while this would be carbon-neutral, burning hydrocarbons is responsible for tens of thousands of direct and indirect deaths due to all the other shite that's spat out the back of the car in the process.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A lot of the crap blown out of the exhaust is the result of the hoops they have to jump through to meet mandatory CO2 levels. If those were relaxed, due to the CO2 being recycled, the manufacturers would have more freedom to clean up their engines.

        1. mevets

          Mandatory CO2 levels? What are you on about?

          If you oxidize Carbon, the best you can hope (complete combustion) for is CO2. CO (Carbon Monoxide) is the mostly likely product of incomplete combustion, and is highly poisonous and volatile. Virtually every other Carbon containing compound from incomplete combustion will be worse. Typically, any such substances will combust in the exhaust system via the familiar backfire sound.

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            What he means is that due to the high focus on CO2 and other greenhouse gasses there's been a very strong focus on fuel efficiency and combustion temperature, which has resulted in very fuel efficient engines running very hot that produce a lot of other compounds such as nitrogen oxides that weren't as much a problem in the slightly less efficient engines running at lower temperatures. I don't think however that the focus has been so much on fuel efficiency for climate/greenhouse gas emission reasons and almost solely out of economic reasons. Fuel is expensive, these synthetic fuels would still be (very expensive) so the focus will remain on burning as little of it as possible. The nitrogen (and other oxides) this results in we'll have to solve in another way. Potentially this solar process might also be adopted to add pulling nitrogen (and NOx) from the air to produce fertilizers, bringing us another small stap closer to a closed cycle.

            1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

              NOx concentrations in air are vanishingly small (even compared to CO2, which is 0.04%), NO2 concentrations, for example, are measured in double digits in parts per billion. Thus, pulling these out of the air in any useful amount is always going to be impractical. The problem is, that oxides of nitrogen tend to be nasty even in very low concentrations, contributing to things like photochemical smog. The best approach is always going to be to catch them at the source. That's why we have catalytic converters on cars.

            2. Tom66

              It is still impossible to build a combustion engine of any reasonable efficiency (even if CO2 restrictions were weakened so e.g. 30 mpg cars became more common) that does not produce NOx.

              NOx is highly toxic to humans and has been shown to lead to: breathing problems, headaches, chronically reduced lung function, eye irritation, loss of appetite and tooth corrosion. It also acidifies rain (along with sulfur dioxide) and has similar downstream effects for animals.

              Besides, even if regulatory requirements for efficiency were relaxed, consumers would demand fuel efficiency remain high.

              1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                IEBs

                It is still impossible to build a combustion engine of any reasonable efficiency (even if CO2 restrictions were weakened so e.g. 30 mpg cars became more common) that does not produce NOx.

                But nitrogen still has enormous potential to create new fuels. Here's an example where a scientist demonstrates how to both create fuel, and reduce food waste. It's similar to processes currently in use that convert what could be perfectly good popcorn into ethanol-

                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2YbK7FnESU

                I think this has great potential, especially if fatty foods could be utilised in compression engines like diesels.

                (see also NileRed's latest, wherein rubber gloves become hot sauce)

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                The problem is that with taxation so tightly tied to CO2, manufacturers are forced to aim for the lowest possible numbers according to widely-discredited "standardized" tests. That's what leads to things like the VW emissions scandal. If the car makers could just optimize their engines for best real-world economy, as they used to do, they could keep total CO2 and NOx low. Instead they have to target the artificial conditions of the test because 100g CO2 instead of 99g could put them in a higher tax category, so they aim for that 99g even when it means much higher CO2 and NOx in conditions not covered by the test.

              3. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

                -- consumers would demand fuel efficiency remain high. --

                Only because fuel prices would refuse to go down.

              4. Potemkine! Silver badge

                It is still impossible to build a combustion engine of any reasonable efficiency (even if CO2 restrictions were weakened so e.g. 30 mpg cars became more common) that does not produce NOx.

                There are solutions to reduce them drastically

                Nox are also produced by coal, oil and gas power stations and in high volumes. Moving ICE vehicles to EV is just moving the problem to elsewhere as long as coal, oil and gas represent 80% of electricity production.

                At least with Bosch solution, there's a way to dramatically improve Nox emissions.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Cart before horse as usual.

              Synthetic fuels(or really, synthesized fuels) are not new, and aren't going to solve our problems on near horizon. I'll back that up. For synthetic fuels to offset a meaningful amount of conventional fuels we need a large mass of surplus power. Wind, solar, and to a lesser degree hydro-power are great for this as they tend to produce loads of peak power, and need to have significant over provisioning to ensure coverage of baseline power utilization. The trick is while surplus power on the grid currently tends to be wasted, the amount of surplus power needed to synthesize fuel to offset the use on automotive, marine, and air travel is orders of magnitude beyond our peak power surpluses.

              It will take decades to build up that kind of capacity. When we do it may still be more efficient to store that power in many cases. There are also methods for taking that electricity more directly into chemical synthesis that don't involve thermal cracking. There are also biofuel and biogas sources. We will also probably need rapid methods of direct carbon capture we don't plant to immediately burn and re-release.

              The reality is we either embrace many of these technologies or we fail miserably, and in this transition that we have only really just begun in earnest, we should preserve the tools that will serve us in future. There is a mistaken push to start ripping up the existing fuel infrastructure to force people onto electric sources. Great for the (usually local monopoly) power companies, but terrible for every case where electric replacements aren't a no brainer. There is a push to bar bio fuels under the assumption that the only way to produce them is taking food from the mouths of people in even more marginal circumstances. In reality, bio-fuel extraction from non-food sources (or literally food waste) can be done very efficiently, just not at scale that solves these problems on their own. Bio-gas extraction can be recovered from landfill and agricultural sources, but it needs infrastructure to transport and utilize it(hmm the same infrastructure as the existing LP and natural gas uses.)

              People are stuck on carbon reduction as if it were a one-dimensional problem, and are pushing for changes that will set us back when we need help the most. We should focus on a rapid rollout of more efficient electric vehicles in dense urban environments that favor them, and preserve the legacy fuels infrastructure for the middle chapter where we can produce some, but not all, of those fuels in a carbon neutral way.

          2. Stevie

            Bah!

            Yes, one must completely oxidize the carbon, otherwise, instead of Life Gas, one ends up with Death Gas.

            Obvious really.

      2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: you focus on EVs were you can

        No, you focus on carbon neutral and zero carbon. EVs are just one path, and you can't ignore the global fleet of combustion engine vehicles that most people cannot afford to replace.

        If you want global anarchy, just tell the billions of car owners, millions of businesses, they can no longer run their car/van/truck unless they switch to EV.

        Plus why scrap a perfectly good vehicle just because it's not an EV. That's hardly ecologically sound.

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: you focus on EVs were you can

          How many people drive a car that's more than 25 years old? And how many of those do it because they can't afford anything else? (My experience is that cars get kinda expensive to maintain sometime before that age.)

          The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads, but simply to let them wear out.. What's important is that we stop making new ones.

          1. Totally not a Cylon Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: you focus on EVs were you can

            You got a downvote because the maintenance costs of my 31yr old Range Rover are tiny compared to the service costs of a new vehicle....

            1. Def Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: you focus on EVs were you can

              the maintenance costs of my 31yr old Range Rover are tiny

              Is that because it's just sitting in your garden rusting? ;)

              1. Def Silver badge
                Joke

                Re: you focus on EVs were you can

                I see there are $(DOWNVOTES) Range Rover owners with cars rusting in their gardens. :D

            2. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: you focus on EVs were you can

              The average age of a vehicle* in the UK is... 8 and a bit years.

              Suggesting that there are very few vehicles older than 25 years isn't exactly a stretch.

              Yes there will always be some vehicles which just keep trundling on with nothing more than a big hammer and a bit of string, but for the vast majority they become uneconomic long before then.

              ~40m on this report - 35m cars and 5m vans.

            3. Tom66

              Re: you focus on EVs were you can

              Certainly won't be the case that anything new from JLR will last 31 years!

            4. Grogan

              Re: you focus on EVs were you can

              It's fucking ridiculous having to deal with car dealership mechanics now. Expensive, they never do "repairs" (only replace parts... all of them involved that may or may not get wrecked in the process) and the vehicles are stupidly engineered and it keeps you coming back.

              Fuck the flippant replies, I've got a vehicle that has a fuel line made of bioplastic. A one piece, shaped fuel line that costs $500 just for the part (thousands in labour and cleanup) when squirrels gnaw through it and pressurized gasoline sprays all under the hood an into the ventilation system and soaks into all the dampening materials. It has happened to me twice since I got that vehicle in 2018. The second time, I asked Ford to reinforce it with some steel braiding or something and they refused. I took the car somewhere else (to a real mechanic) to get that done and so far, nothing has chewed through it. It's a "Ford Fusion" this vehicle.

              It's in again right now, for two days for brake work that's going to cost probably $1300.

              The last car I had that I could really work on was a 1984 Mercury Topaz. It still had a carburetor you could clean and adjust, even. I drove that thing for 12 years and drove it to the wreckers not because the engine was bad, or that I couldn't keep replacing parts on the car, but because I didn't want to spend the money to get new tires again on a car whose body wasn't going to last much longer. I got 50 bucks for the car (scrap value) but a year later I noticed they were driving my car around the scrap yard (all but driver's seat removed) for hauling parts around. You couldn't kill that thing lol

          2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

            Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

            My primary point was that "the plan" should be for carbon neutrality in all areas. Just focussing on EVs is counterproductive, breeding tension and resentment among the vast majority who can't have an EV for myriad reasons.

            That's the big trouble with all these mandates that start banning new ICE vehicles from 2030. People are being railroaded into unviable solutions. It does keep older, less efficient, less safe and more polluting vehciles on the road for much longer.

            Rapidly scaling carbon neutral solutions like creating fuel from air will minimise these problems and stop people feeling like they're being forced into something that simply is viable for them.

            Any mobility strategy that doesn't account for what is practical and required by the majority is destined for major social problems.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

              Any transport strategy that doesn't involve weaning people off cars is doomed to failure... EVs are one step on that path, they aren't the final destination.

              1. imanidiot Silver badge

                Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                I'd say that any transport strategy that involves weaning people off of cars is doomed to failure. There is no way people are willingly going to give up the usefulness that comes with (having access to) a car. For some people (especially city-dwellers) car-sharing programs might work, for a lot of people that won't. I doubt we're going to go back to the era of the mills where people HAVE to live within walking distance of their place of work and for many people a car is basically a requirement if they want to have any employment whatsoever. Not everyone has a job that can be done remotely.

                1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

                  Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                  Indeed. Not everyone lives in That London. In most of the country, public transport is either expensive and sparse, or simply non-existent. I read today of a village in north Somerset that is now cut-off from public transport after the cancellation of their last (privately run) bus service.

                  You won't get people out of cars until there is universal, affordable, not-for-profit public transport that serves the entire country. With the right-wing neoliberal market-led economy we have, that is never going to happen.

                  For those of us who live in cities outside London, there may be *some* public transport available, but it's not exactly economically useable. I live in Bristol, and there are plenty of buses. They are expensive, infrequent, and don't stop near where I live. It is more economical for me, both in time and money, to own a car for various uses, even though I now work from home 99% of the time.

                  1. John Robson Silver badge

                    Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                    "In most of the country, public transport is either expensive and sparse, or simply non-existent. "

                    That's *because* of cars - the cars are the problem, not the solution.

                    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                      Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                      "That's *because* of cars - the cars are the problem, not the solution."

                      If it were only that simple. I'd love to take the local bus to the train stations some miles away when I want to visit my mom on a weekend since parking at the train station overnight would cost several thousand dollars in car repairs if the car didn't just go missing. The problem is that the bus isn't on a schedule that meshes with the train schedule. There is also no bus in the evening that would bring me home. We don't have public transportation that is thought of as a whole system. Every mode is considered, routed and scheduled in it's own little world.

                      Anybody with kids knows that having a car is a requirement in this day and age. They need dropping off and picking up from all sorts of programs. I don't get the whole idea of a school run as I walked to school or rode a bike when I was young. When I got my license, I drove myself and my best friend (or he drove) as the school was a bit further away and the gross tonnage of gear we had to schlep back and forth became burdensome. I don't think any parent wants to be trying to find a way to get their child to hospital in the middle of the night when the busses have stopped running. While that might never be necessary, it is a big fear.

                      1. John Robson Silver badge

                        Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                        "I don't think any parent wants to be trying to find a way to get their child to hospital in the middle of the night when the busses have stopped running. While that might never be necessary, it is a big fear."

                        Two options, one you have a public transport system that doesn't just stop overnight...

                        Or.. and this is a shocking thought, if you need to get to a hospital then there are these things called ambulances. One will collect your child, and you, and get you to an appropriate hospital at any time of day or night.

                        1. kiwimuso
                          WTF?

                          Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                          @John Robson

                          FFS you really live in your own little dream world don't you.

                          Because you can see a solution that works for you, you make the HUUUGE assumption that it must work for everyone.

                          Here's news. It just doesn't OK, and the more you bang on about it, the more down votes you will continue getting.

                          I really would like to see your solution for an army in the wilds of Afghanistan or wherever dealing with electric vehicles, not to mention farmers in remote(ish) areas. There may be a solution for them in the future, but it certainly isn't here yet.

                          Ambulances are fine for getting to hospital, but not so good when they release you at 4 a.m. (which happened to me) with public transport non-existent at those hours of the night. I was fortunate that I lived in an area where taxis were available.

                          Ok, you've made a/your point, now just leave it alone will you. Not all places in the world fulfill your ideal conditions.

                          P.S. and yes, I know this is late to the party, but just reading the comments and you repeating the same old, same old gets tedious.

                          1. John Robson Silver badge

                            Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                            "I really would like to see your solution for an army in the wilds of Afghanistan or wherever dealing with electric vehicles, not to mention farmers in remote(ish) areas. There may be a solution for them in the future, but it certainly isn't here yet."

                            Sorry, you're trying to compare an invading army with a person moving around their town/country in peacetime? No wonder everyone thinks they need to drive a tank to take their kid the four hundred yards to primary school "because it's unsafe to walk with all the cars around".

                            Farmers don't have that big an issue. Even remote areas are generally pretty well supplied with electrons, and pretty much by definition farmers will have significant area available for renewables installation.

                            Can every piece of farm machinery be electrified tomorrow? Probably not

                            Does that mean that none if it can/should? Absolutely not

                            Does that mean that none of the rest ever will be? Absolutely not.

                            At what point have I said "works for me so must be perfect for everyone"?

                            The only vaguely contentious thing I have said is that we have far too many cars, and society is built around assuming that everyone and their dog has sole access to one.

                            If we actually planned to reduce our reliance on cars then we could do so easily. It won't happen overnight, but it would happen. You simply make the alternatives nicer, faster, cheaper than running a car. You don't build dormitory developments with no transport links to anywhere except the closest motorway junction. You build them with high quality pedestrian and cycle access to the local town, the local shopping centre, the local doctors, pubs, cinema, schools, industrial estate, office blocks.

                            You run, and enforce, default 20mph speed limits in built up areas, you charge for parking... not rocket science. But the carrot has to be put first, in many cases the stick is never needed.

                        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

                          Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                          "Or.. and this is a shocking thought, if you need to get to a hospital then there are these things called ambulances. One will collect your child, and you, and get you to an appropriate hospital at any time of day or night."

                          And the bill will allow them to buy another ambulance.

                          1. John Robson Silver badge

                            Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                            Ambulance transport should, along with the care provided at the hospital, be free at point of use - in any civilised society.

                    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

                      Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                      That's *because* of cars - the cars are the problem, not the solution.

                      No, it's because public transport has been privatised, so it is run "for profit". It's pure right-wing neoliberal economics, as is evidenced by the plentiful and affordable public transport in countries that haven't veered to the right, as opposed to those which have.

                      For example, visit pretty much any medium-sized city in mainland Europe, and you'll likely see a metro system. How many UK cities have one of those? Last time I checked, it was four. Even Naples, a notoriously poverty-stricken and corrupt city, has a decent metro system. People don't have to drive.

                      Visit smaller towns and villages in places like rural Greece, and you'll find cheap and comfortable regular coaches and buses. In many European countries, trains are frequent and affordable too. If I remember rightly, a return ticket from Naples station to Ercolano, for example, was a couple of euros.

                      What we are suffering from in this country, on the other hand, is decades of underinvestment, and a continued selling-off of "the family silver" so that governments can make a quick buck to lower taxes and stay in power. Some people get very rich in the process, everyone else gets poorer.

                      1. John Robson Silver badge

                        Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                        That's *because* of cars - the cars are the problem, not the solution.

                        No, it's because public transport has been privatised, so it is run "for profit". It's pure right-wing neoliberal economics, as is evidenced by the plentiful and affordable public transport in countries that haven't veered to the right, as opposed to those which have.

                        I agree, but I'd maintain that one of the main reasons the silver could be sold off so easily is that car ownership was pushed so hard.

                2. dajames Silver badge

                  Re: The plan for the combustion fleet isn't to ban them from the roads

                  I'd say that any transport strategy that involves weaning people off of cars is doomed to failure. There is no way people are willingly going to give up the usefulness that comes with (having access to) a car.

                  It's certainly the case that people won't willingly give up cars -- because they are, as you say, useful.

                  Methinks that's the point about "weaning people off" cars, they won't give them up willingly, but can they be persuaded?

                  In most cases the answer is probably "no", but as society changes more people may decide that they can do without. There is some evidence that that sort of change is taking place -- young people eschewing car ownership and even not bothering to learn to drive -- in towns, at least. I don't see it extending to rural areas any time soon.

          3. ChrisC Silver badge

            Re: you focus on EVs were you can

            There may not be any plans to explicitly ban ICE vehicles from the roads (a handful of experimental zero-emissions streets in London and perhaps elsewhere aside), but there are certainly plenty of ways in which to make it increasingly unpleasant to be an ICE owner of even relatively new vehicles - e.g. introduction of low emission zones and higher parking charges for diesel vehicles.

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: you focus on EVs were you can

              Unfortunately those measures penalize the poorest people who can't afford new cars, and can't get to work by other means, but they have little or no impact on the people who can still afford new 50k+ SUVs

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: you focus on EVs were you can

              The problem is that in Britain (and the USA) there's no concurrent plan to improve public transport alongside it

              All stick, no carrot

              1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: you focus on EVs were you can

                >The problem is that in Britain (and the USA) there's no concurrent plan to improve public transport alongside it<

                There is no rational plan, but there will be plans of some kind. Las Vegas is a popular weekend destination for people in Southern California. Train service would alleviate all of the traffic problems and get rid of the massive tailbacks when there is an accident. The problem is as soon as there is talk about adding train service again, some attorney makes it a requirement that it will be High Speed Rail and that kills it. The project gets trimmed back to a route that doesn't get anywhere near Los Angeles or San Diego so people will just make the whole trip in their car rather than park up in some small desert town along the highway and hope their vehicle will be there when they get back while at the same time only minimally shortening their trip time.

                There are also those projects that fall short of being a complete solution. Going back to Las Vegas, Elon carved out a couple of sewer pipes under the convention center and instead of going with a system like the one at Heathrow terminal 5 with automated cars, they are using human driven off the shelf Tesla vehicles where I haven't seen a demonstration of whether the passenger doors could be opened enough to get out if there were a problem. The UltraPRT pods at terminal 5 doors open like a barn door so don't need the same clearance as a gull-wing or standard car door. Only half of a proper transportation system was worked out and the rest just bodged.

                Sleepy Joe Biden's office has put forward an allocation for Amtrak, the US's national passenger rail service, to expand it a bit. One of its big problems is the lack of destinations and not much of a schedule. They also don't have the amount of rolling stock they can use and even less now as there was an accident when a train hit a dump truck that stalled at a level crossing. I believe that train service is one of those things that lends itself to "build it and they will come". It's a great way to travel without all of the indignities of going by air. Schedules that connect points with overnight service might not even need to travel all that fast. I love that I can take luggage without yet another fee and get a meal of my choosing or a drink if I want from when I board to the end of my trip.

          4. Wellyboot Silver badge

            Re: you focus on EVs were you can

            It boils down to the total vehicle lifetime cost while you own it. For the budget conscious driver, yes, there's a regular maintenance bill* for old ICE powered cars, but very few reach anywhere near the annual rental cost of a new EV (cheapest up front way to run one) on a 3-5 year contract. The deposit for an EV will buy an old car outright then the monthly EV rental and recharge costs will buy a lot of petrol & maintenance.

            Buying an older EV is taking a gamble with the battery life degradation curve and currently any serious maintenance is likely to be at dealer rates instead of fred round the corner.

            In the UK rust from road salt tends to be the main killer of cars over 20 years old, many newer cars die when the ECU fails.

            *from experience at 10-15 years old the costs suddenly peak due to everything getting old in short order, then they tail off as the age related failures become another recurring cost.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: you focus on EVs were you can

              I did the calculations in 2019 based on 15 years of previous receipts and records for a variety of cars I had over that time.

              At that time the lease of a new BEV cost me the same as running ICE vehicles from 80k-150k miles old.

              The prices have shifted in my favour over the last couple of years. Diesel has gone from £1.10 to whatever it is now - £1.90 (https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/advice/fuel-watch/), electricity prices have moved a bit, but make up a very small portion of my costs - and off peak is still available cheaply.

              I readily admit that the leases offered by motability are below market rates, but:

              - Assuming a generous 38mpg in the ICE (reality was 36/37)

              - Assuming a stingy 3.8kWh/m for the BEV (reality is 3.9-4.1)

              - Assuming 10% BEV miles are on DC charging at 55p/kWh

              Then at 2019 prices 12k/year was the point at which costs were even.

              At 2022 prices (fuel £1.90 rather than £1.10 - ignoring inflation) that distance is just 5k miles.

              If I do 10k a year, then the lease would have to be 25% more expensive to match the cost of an old ICE vehicle. If I do 12k/year (what my MOTs recorded for the decade leading up to the switch) then the lease could be 40% more expensive.

              "Buying an older EV is taking a gamble with the battery life degradation curve"

              As opposed to the gamble with ICE vehicles and all the things that go wrong with them?

              Battery degradation is actually well characterised, gradual, and observable - you get a few miles less max range than you used to, you don't get stranded road side with no warning.

              EV batteries generally will come with 8 year/100-150k mile warranty - double that of a typical ICE warranty. I'd be more worried about a cam belt failure, or a head gasket failure, or a gear box failure, or any of the other myriad of failures that can strand an ICE vehicle with little to no warning, not the battery pack.

              1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

                Re: you focus on EVs were you can

                The only reason that fuel costs of a BEV are cheaper than petrol/diesel is that the latter includes fuel duty which brings £30bn a year to the treasury. If electricity for cars was taxed at the same rate it would be little if any cheaper. The government (of any political stripe) won't pass up that income, so sooner or later BEVs will cost the same per mile as ICE vehicles, either through tax, road pricing, or some other scheme.

                1. John Robson Silver badge
                  Stop

                  Re: you focus on EVs were you can

                  No - the main reason is that it takes about a third as much energy to move a BEV as it does to move an ICE vehicle.

                  Fuel duty has never brought £30bn to the treasury, it was ~22bn a decade ago, and grew to ~27bn just before the pandemic (I'm not cherry picking pandemic years here).

                  One of the main reasons for fuel duty is to encourage people to reduce emissions, so there is immediately less need to add it to EV fuel. We should, however, be increasing the duty on petrol/diesel further - and jet fuel (massively).

                  However let's ignore all that and do some more maths...

                  The cost per mile (just fuel) is:

                  38mpg@£1.90 = 22.7p (which includes just 6.3p fuel duty - RAC average cost page)

                  3.8m/kWh@7.5p = 1.9p (Charging overnight at home - Octopus Go, currently offered rate)

                  3.8m/kWh@50p = 13.2p (Public charging - Gridserve DC cost)

                  So... if you subtract the fuel duty (and the VAT on the fuel duty) then you get a cost per ICE mile that is 15.1p, still higher than the already elevated cost of public DC charging.

                  Assuming that ~90% of miles are charged from home... the typical cost per mile would be 2.4p, so add on the 7.6p of fuel duty and VAT for the treasury - that's now 10p/mile, same revenue for the treasury, but less than half the cost for the user.

        2. Mike 137 Silver badge

          Re: you focus on EVs were you can

          "If you want global anarchy, just tell the billions of car owners, millions of businesses, they can no longer run their car/van/truck unless they switch to EV."

          On a more local scale, a lot of small businesses here in the UK have gone out of business when local councils imposed swingeing daily levies for keeping and running older vehicles. A small business friend of mine was quoted £100 per day to keep his relatively old trade van on the street despite its emission passing its annual tests. This was a final blow that closed him down, in an area where the municipal buses commonly spew black smoke as they move.

          What seemingly a majority of those who quite legitimately want to reduce pollution appear to forget is that the entire problem is very large and complex, including a vast array of interlocking technical, social, economic and environmental aspects, so point fixes do not really work. We have to evolve our entire civilisations out of the demand for massive and constant mobility. We managed without it for thousands of quite successful years, but it's going to be a long and hard task to revert, one of the hardest challenges being to abandon the concept that growth is the primary valid measure of success.

          1. Wellyboot Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: you focus on EVs were you can

            >>>Thousands of quite successful years<<< existing mostly as farm labourers, one bad harvest from starvation and looking forward to the annual turnip whittling contest.

      3. DJO Silver badge

        ...there is no feasible prospect of battery- or hydrogen-powered aircraft any time soon...

        Actually for short haul flights electric propulsion does work but for long haul, not a chance.

        85% of flights are short haul.

        Plainly "Short haul" covers a wide range of flights even if only half are short enough to be electrified that's a significant proportion of flights.

        Once suitable craft are produced all sub 100km flights, city to city or island hoppers can and should be electric.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          "Once suitable craft are produced all sub 100km flights, city to city or island hoppers can and should be electric" or trains.

          1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

            Trains are really, really expensive. And they have the problem of not being re-routable.

            If you need to change the line for whatever reason, you can't. If a service is no longer required, you can't repurpose the tracks. You're stuck with it.

            1. ThatOne Silver badge
              WTF?

              > If you need to change the line for whatever reason

              The reason could only be greed, because cities move very, very slowly, so your railroad tracks should be good for a long time. And, unless your service is really abysmal, people will keep using it, because it's not always convenient to take one's car (assuming you own one). There are some really fast and very comfortable city-to-city trains in Europe, which can stand comparison with planes on every aspect, including speed.

              BTW, trains are expensive? Do you really imply that airplanes are cheap compared to them?

              1. ChrisC Silver badge

                "The reason could only be greed"

                Or some event which causes a significant decline in passenger numbers - e.g. the closing of a major employer in a town or the continued rise in popularity of WFH - such that maintaining even a reduced level of service over the line becomes financially untenable even for the most altruistic of rail operators, even nationalised ones.

                1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                  It used to be that one could get across Los Angeles county in less time by light rail than you can currently DRIVE across it on freeways

                  Ironically, most of LA's freeways are built on old light rail right-of-ways

                  The story of why they were destroyed makes for interesting reading about why cartels are a bad thing

              2. Def Silver badge

                There are some really fast and very comfortable city-to-city trains in Europe...

                There are some fast city-to-city trains within individual countries in Europe. But very few cross border trains, and those that do cross borders are very limited in where they go, are rarely express trains, and you often have to end up booking multiple tickets through multiple websites because combining them all into a single system would be too convenient.

                As an example, to take a train from Oslo to Barcelona, I would need to book:

                Oslo > Gothenburg (3.5 hours, €25)

                Gothenburg > Hamburg (9.5 hours - change in Copenhagen, €56)

                Hamburg > Paris (8.5 hours, €39)

                Paris > Barcelona (6.5 hours, €49)

                I dread to think how long I'd have to spend waiting around in stations to make those connections, and the prices are for the cheapest one-way ticket (that I could find in a 20-second Google).

                Or I take a four hour flight costing €120 return. (Which is exactly what I did in June.)

                1. ThatOne Silver badge
                  Facepalm

                  Well obviously, if you take as example a monster trip all across Europe, from the NE to the SW corner, it's to be expected that planes will be more convenient. Even the fastest trains are bound to be slower than planes which fly at 3x the speed...

                  Also crossing 5 different countries doesn't help any, railways are national structures. Exceptions are so rare and notable most people have heard of them (Orient Express, Trans-Siberian, and so on).

              3. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

                It's a lot cheaper, and quicker, for me to fly to a city at the other end of the UK than take the train.

                It's (significantly) cheaper for me to drive to London than get a train there. Economy of scale means this REALLY shouldn't be the case, but the privately run trains here are a LOT more expensive than the publicly run ones on the continent. I wonder why that might be...

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  I wonder why that might be...

                  Massive subsidies. SNCF in France gets around 1000EUR subsidy from each household per year, and that's for the non-TGV network.

                  1. Tim99 Silver badge

                    And roads come out of general revenue, but are also considered a "public good". As an example of subsidy, compare a heavy lorry to a car. The damage caused to a road surface is proportional to the fourth power of axle weight. A heavy car has an axle weight of ~1 ton, a 40 ton truck might have 8 axles, 5 tons/axle; so 5^4 = 625/axle = or 2,500 times the damage. A modern 2 ton car might have a Vehicle Excise Duty Band G of £220. A band G HGV costs £1,850 so just based on road damage the HGV "should cost ~£550,000. Obviously this does not include things like societal costs and benefits, etc. I wonder what the political fall-out woukld be from The Road Haulage Association if the Excise for a 40 ton truck was raised to say £100,000?

                  2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

                    Interesting claim. I googled it, and apparently the SNCF is subsidised to the extent of about €200 per person per annum, which is considerably less alarming sounding than €1000 per household. Most people I know don't live in households of five people, and I seriously doubt that the average household size in France is 5 either.

                    Of course, if you commute anywhere by train in the UK, you are directly subsidising shareholders of the train companies by a hell of a lot more than about £168 per year. Some single journey tickets will set you back more than that, so where is the balance going? There's a discrepancy there of orders of magnitude.

            2. dajames Silver badge

              If a service is no longer required, you can't repurpose the tracks.

              The usual reason for rail services ceasing to be required is that the passengers or goods that formerly used that service have switched to using the roads -- because, despite the environmental impact, the roads offered a cheaper and/or more convenient means of transport.

              Given that we're talking, here, about a policy of using railways in order to reduce our dependence on environmentally unacceptable road vehicles there is very little reason to suppose the rail service will ever cease to be profitable.

              1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

                the roads offered a cheaper and/or more convenient means of transport.

                The big problem with a train, and more so with flying, is that it will take you from where you don't want to start (station/airport) to somewhere you don't want to end up at (another station or airport).

                Whereas my car will take me from outside my house (yes, I have off-street parking) to somewhere fairly close to where I want to go to. Obviously that will vary depending on where I want to go - fortunately, round here parking isn't the big problem it is in cities.

                Busses are less of a problem in that - it's only a short walk to the end of our street where I could catch one, and I could be in town or at work fairly easily. But by the time it's been all around the houses, with all those stops, I could have driven and arrived in the time it takes me to get peed off with some antisocial lout I'd probably have to share the bus with.

              2. ChrisC Silver badge

                "The usual reason for rail services"

                ONE of the usual reasons, yes. The other is that the passenger or goods flow that was previously served by the line has simply ceased to exist at all.

                I grew up in the north east of England at a time when we still had a large number of collieries all over the region, we still had a British Steel plant up in Consett, and we still had shipyards building ruddy great ships - all of which contributed to the amount of freight and passenger traffic on the rail network up there.

                These days, the steelworks are long gone, the coal mining industry is hanging on by a thread, and the few shipyards still doing anything are now employing far fewer people. Consequently, in the 25 years I spent living up there before my career choice pointed me southwards, I witnessed a dramatic reduction in the rail network - lines that I remember from my early childhood in the 70s simply no longer existed as anything more than a disused trackbed by the time I reached my teens, and those lines which survived the cull were often left with only just enough traffic to justify their continued existence, or were repurposed as part of construction of the Metro network.

                Rinse and repeat across the entire country where similar seismic shifts in industrial activity have led to similar shifts in the requirements to provide passenger/freight services on the local lines, and there will be numerous examples where services have been withdrawn without there being a corresponding shift of rail to road.

                1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                  "The other is that the passenger or goods flow that was previously served by the line has simply ceased to exist at all"

                  Historically, those flows sprang up because the line was there and most of the lines were originally put in for other reasons

              3. Alan Brown Silver badge

                The reason for that is that roads are massively subsidised - heavy vehicles incredibly so compared to the damage they do (one city bus carrying 28 passengers does about the same amount of roadbed damage per pass as 500-800 cars)

                this was all made possible by cheap oil but that era's about to end

                1. Tim99 Silver badge

                  And a typical hatchback with one person does more than a million times the damage to the road as a cyclist (ref: my post above). We are not comparing like with like. Back in the 1980s when I knew a little bit about this stuff, it was suggested that for a better societal outcome (the numbers indicated) all local public transport should be free, but obviously this is "socialism" and probably not politically acceptable. An even better outcome would be "local hubs" where people's work, shopping and recreation should be within 4 miles of their homes; Other than people's need for social interaction, working from home should help...

                  Someone I know who is expert at lithium chemistry and transportation told us that he had seen some work for a Chinese car company that showed that if ever a safe autonomous electric vehicle could be made, cities would change dramatically. He pointed out that most cars spend much of their life stationary ("rusting"). People would not own their own vehicles, but would use a phone to call for one. The design life of an electrical vehicle could be much longer (<10% of the moving parts as opposed to an IC vehicle). If working and social hours were staggered there would be a need for far fewer vehicles and road capacity. Car parking would not be required and the road and parking space liberated could be transferred to public parks etc.

                  1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                    >showed that if ever a safe autonomous electric vehicle could be made, cities would change dramatically. <

                    I have a few cupboards full of cookware that spends most of its time gathering dust. Should I get "cookware as a service"? If I planned my meals out a couple of weeks in advance, maybe it would work, but if I wanted to be spontaneous and cook something I found myself craving, I might be stuck.

                    The same thing might happen with "Car as a service". You decide that you'd much rather go out for a sit down dinner but discover that due to a sports event just letting out that all of the cars in the area are spoken for until late. Maybe you need to pick up your son from football practice, but your payment card has been cancelled due to somebody trying to make a fraudulent charge against it. The bank caught it so it won't cost you any money, but you won't have a new card delivered for 10 business days. In the mean time, it's raining and your son still needs to be picked up. The argument that most cars spend their life sitting around isn't a good argument. We aren't buying a car with an expectation that it will be used continuously. We own a car so it's ours to use when we need it. I own a car but I still would prefer to take the train to visit my mother for the day on a weekend. The train tickets are cheap and I've rarely had a delay. Taking the car is slightly faster on a good day and significantly slower when there's been an accident or it's hissing down with rain.

                    Flying is completely off the menu. Somehow I seem to be on that non-existent list and would be "randomly selected" for extra screening when I would fly to the point where I was sick to the teeth of being groped and having my bags completely tossed so I've sworn off entirely. Busses that stop every block take far too long and always feel like they will tip over when they go around a corner.

                    1. Tim99 Silver badge

                      Yes, generally I would agree with you. As I got older, I realized that most of the stuff that I own was "unnecessary crap". I, too, cook. Most of my expensive knives sit doing nothing for 350 days a year, the one that I use most is Baccarat cuisine pro utility knife which cost me AU$5.95 on special. I have a decent set of 3 Baccarat stainless steel saucepans, and a medium frying pan which gets used most of the time, a couple of enamel plates and a few glass bowls. Most of the rest of the stuff that I accumulated in 50+ years of cooking like garlic presses, mixers, and fancy specialised cookware has gone to the local charity shop. I would probably have saved thousands over the years if I had learnt simple lessons like: Most non-stick aluminium pans are crap and have a very limited life before they start sticking…

                      My argument is based on local conditions where an average car costs AU$900 a month to own. Most households have 2+ cars which works out a car for every person in the State (including children). So, in future, are most households going to spend $19,000 a year to own 2 cars when 1 owned car will do? I remember in 1955 when my father bought the 4th car in our Norfolk village (population ~120); public transport was not ideal, but was better than it is now. Assuming that the wheels don’t come off (which is looking likely - pun intended) we are almost certainly going to have to go down the route of fewer private vehicles (pun again).

                      Something which to me seemed strange in these Covid times, is that our State government is getting behind electric scooters and cycles to help relieve suburban transport. Even though public transport is free in our city centres, many don’t like having to wear masks in public transport, travelling with potentially infected people. You can buy a scooter with a 30km/hr top speed and a 90km range for <$1,200 and recharge it for free from your solar panels (25% of our houses have solar panels). A faster 2 seater Vespa type electric scooter with a a similar range is $5,000 (Before COVID, I noticed Teipei has many thousands).

                      For longer journeys, I can use public transport, travel 45kms for $4 on all buses, trains and ferries; and commence the return journey within 3 hours on the same ticket. Outside commuter times, as I’m a pensioner, I travel free. Yes I have a car, a 46 month old VW golf, with 17,000 kms on the odometer - Mostly it’s used for shopping, recreation and medical appointments, I could Uber those, but as you imply it’s just convenient to have a car…

            3. jmch Silver badge

              Trains are expensive, yes, but they work in volume far larger than planes. Per passenger cost for trains is similar to planes over 100km-ish range

            4. MachDiamond Silver badge

              >If you need to change the line for whatever reason, you can't. If a service is no longer required, you can't repurpose the tracks. You're stuck with it.<

              In the US, tracks are owned by the freight companies with passenger trains leasing access. If a passenger service is no longer needed, it's highly unlikely that the route is also going to lose freight as well. Given that passenger trains can be booked a couple of months in advance, more lines going to more places and more frequent service on existing routes would work out really well. I was looking at a trip last week and there were no rooms left, only coach seats. Coach doesn't come with meals or access to showers so it isn't that good for long trips. I also don't sleep well sitting up even though the seats recline quite a bit. It's too bad the trains don't still have the curtained cubby holes for sleeping anymore.

              Many population centers got their start due to being serviced by a train. There are still the remnants of that left. I don't see that train routes going between major cities would ever wind up being cut.

          2. jmch Silver badge

            Island hoppers can't really be replaced by trains, and boats are typically far slower for passenger transport. Faster boats are simply vomit-fests

    2. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
      Facepalm

      It makes no difference. Greens are opposed to personal transport, not the emissions.

      The emissions are a perfect cover, but they've already revealed that they are opposed to electric cars because of the dust given off by their brakes and tyres.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The Greens, at least in the UK, despite their name do not speak for anyone but themselves. We'd all be much better off if they'd stuck to their original name of the People Party, reflecting their reality not as environmentalists but a party run by committee of committees, committing to whatever nonsense those committees agree.

        This also goes a long way to explaining why they have little electoral success here, in stark comparison to the rest of Europe.

        1. Evil Scot

          "Inaccessible Coaches and bus drivers who neglect passengers using wheelchairs are also aspects of car culture" is probably the worst case of ableist greenwashing I have seen.

          How TF is that car culture?

          1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

            Because, in general disabled people are still able to drive - there are some quite ingenious aids for that. In the context of wheelchair users, that includes a roof-top storage "bin" that will deploy, winch your folded chair up when you've got into the driver's seat, and stow it - dispensing it back again at the other end.

            Contrast that with (some) busses which might as well not exist as far as a wheelchair use is concerned as there's no way for then to get on and off.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              I manage to get on and off buses with my wheelchair... many wheelchair users (particularly those who are full time users) don't have a folding wheelchair (they are heavier and less stable than folding chairs), and there are a significant proportion with electric chairs, which you aren't ever going to put on the roof of a car.

              Access to a bus is relatively easy - many have adjustable suspension to match them to the kerb height. It's coaches that are challenging, and trains - despite the fact that train/platform heights have been standard for ages.

              Many disabled people can drive - but many can't.

              If we make transport (and that includes, and should prioritise, pedestrian/cycle/wheelchair/scooter routes) accessible to all then none of us would need to drive a car.

              We might get electrical assistance on our mobility aids*, but cars are generally a poor choice of mobility aid, spending most of their energy moving themselves around, not the passengers.

              * Personal example: the hill from my house to town is very hard work pushing up, though lever drive makes it merely hard work, an electrical boost for the steepest 100 metres (at 10%) would make a significant difference.

              Coming back there is a slightly shallower climb from the bottom of that hill to my house (7% is still steep to push up for any distance) that a little helping hand would be good.

              1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

                Ah, the "it works for me so there's no problem" response ?

                Good for you if your local busses are wheelchair accessible - not all are, as you've mentioned, trains can be a problem, and most coaches that I've seen (heck, some coaches are a bit difficult for anyone who doesn't like steep stairs).

                1. John Robson Silver badge

                  Did I not explicitly note that not all buses are as good as the current generation, and that coaches/trains are a bit of a pain (trains less than coaches, since at least the platform staff are generally helpful)?

                  It's not an "it works for me so there is no problem", but an "it *can* be made to work" for everyone.

                  It's far easier to equip all buses to take wheelchairs than to make cars able to be driven by all people with disabilities. Yes, many people with disabilities can drive, but there are also a significant proportion who can't, and won't ever be able to (think visual impairments, seizures, vertigo, or any number of other conditions).

        2. stewwy

          I'd take issue with that last point the greens have more representation in Europe because they are elected under some sort of PR. Unlike here where the voting system actively works against smaller parties.

        3. Sub 20 Pilot

          Fully agree. They have nothing to say except stop using fuel / energy / transport / heating etc. No advice or strategy on how this can be done. I wonder how they live their lives, how they travel, that is, if they venture outside their little comfort zone.

          I could say a lot about a well known Guardian contributor and all-round arrogant prick who is UK based and always slagging off tourism, travel, car use etc. Easy enough to spout rubbish about not owning a car while having access to other people's vehicles including his (ex) wife and PA.

          Most have no idea or any inclination to understand what the issues are living outside a huge city.

    3. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

      Efficiency doesn't really matter if the energy is "free",

      Even if the energy is "free", the maintenance and labour costs will not be. So more process efficiency is still better ... as long as any increased costs associated with that efficiency gain are small enough.

    4. Richard Boyce

      There are also the costs of lost opportunities, such as using the land and sunlight to produce electricity or using the heat for some other thermochemical process.

    5. dajames Silver badge

      Efficiency doesn't really matter if the energy is "free", as long as it can scale to produce reasonable quantities.

      True ... but in this case the syngas isn't really "free", it's produced using solar energy that could have been used to do something else, and if that something else offers more return -- higher efficiency -- then, yes, efficiency does matter.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Well, it wouldn't be "free" then, since it would have an intrinsic price, that of the alternative use.

    6. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

      Is that FREE like wind?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Global-scale 20% efficiency conversion of solar power and air to Kerosene almost seems too good to be true. That's a similar level of efficiency as modern photovoltaic panels, but outputting a temperature-stable, energy-dense, power-dense, easy-to-handle fuel that can be burned in every gas turbine that already exists for no climate impact.

    What's the catch?

    1. Arisia

      Jet engines have an efficiency (at best) of about 40%

      Car engines are similar.

      There's are likely good use cases (yes jets) but won't be cheap for a long while.

      The 20% is also the optimistic "please fund us more" number. Going from 4% will be a long path.

      Also Bain & Co, a charming bunch.

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-62408116

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      It doesn't scale. The article seems quiet on how much fuel can be generated per square metre of infrastructure, but it is probably not large and jets are quite thirsty.

      Given a large area that you are willing to cover in solar something, you get several times better bang for your square metre if you just generate electricity.

      Edit: I see that Twanky has used some napkins in a comment below. Ignore me and scroll down now.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        >Given a large area that you are willing to cover in solar something, you get several times better bang for your square metre if you just generate electricity.<

        If you are dead set on covering the landscape in solar something, why not power rail cars? It doesn't have to be a system as dedicated as HSR since I haven't seen any implementations that could share the right of way with freight too. Rail isn't handy for crossing oceans, but it makes the most sense to work on the lowest hanging fruit first. If we wind up finding some way to replace aircraft powered with bog standard Jet-A as the last piece of the puzzle, that might not be so bad. In the mean time, electrically powered trains including some HSR might get more people out of the sky reducing the amount of petroleum fuel being used in planes.

    3. vtcodger Silver badge

      What's the catch

      Well for one thing, it's very likely only 20% efficiency for a few fours around noon on sunny days in latitudes that aren't too far North. For more information on the probable problems with a facility using Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), aim your favorite search engine at "Crescent Dunes" and/or "Ivanpah". Those are grid scale concentrated solar facilities in Nevada and California respectively. I think both are now (mostly?) shut down. They did generate some power. But nowhere near as much as they hoped. And the technical problems were numerous.

      One of the more publicized -- if comparatively minor -- problems was a software/engineering/operations glitch that set one of the towers at Ivanpah on fire when the facilitiy's own concentrated beams mistakenly got aimed at the tower. But a more basic problem at Ivanpah seems to be that the molten salt thermal storage didn't stay molten over night and had to be warmed in the morning with copious amounts of natural gas. But maybe not. Lot's of money involved so lots of dubious information both pro and con CSP.

      1. Tom66

        Re: What's the catch

        Ivanpah and Crescent Dunes are both still active (the latter has had a spotty past, but more business related than project related it appears.)

      2. Jim Mitchell
        Mushroom

        Re: What's the catch

        Photovoltaic solar has eaten CSP's lunch. Well, it would if they wanted to eat fried pigeon every day.

    4. mevets

      20% of 20%, perhaps?

      It is more likely that efficiency refers to the inbound energy in the process; that is the output of the solar system, not the overall system.

    5. ThatOne Silver badge
      Devil

      > What's the catch?

      A very big, very wealthy industry sector will spend billions to bury this. Their shills will start telling the crowd it won't work but do unspeakable things to them (and their children!), while their lobbyists will make sure those researchers are neutralized, somehow.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Get your tinfoil hats now, only £20 each.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge
          Devil

          Don't buy the tinfoil hats "They" are selling, they are fake and won't protect you! Only our tinfoil hats are made out of 100% pure, virgin, organic tinfoil. You owe your brain the best protection!

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        >A very big, very wealthy industry sector will spend billions to bury this.<

        Tin foil hat time. If something will make money, there will be some wealthy investors that will put money into it.

    6. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      What's the catch?

      Unless I've missed something, there's also a requirement for hydrogen. [sarcasm]As we know, that's really cheap and easy to obtain in a zero carbon way[/sarcasm]

      So until we have so much zero carbon lecky that we don't know what to do with it - and hence can use the surplus to make hydrogen - then the output of the process isn't actually zero (or even low) carbon.

      There is a similar process available to make Methanol which with a few minor software tweaks (negligible cost if incorporated during design) and seal material changes (again zero cost if incorporated at the design stage) can be used in just about all existing petrol engine designs. Again, it's only viable if you have an abundant source of zero carbon hydrogen.

      Incidentally, these processes can actually be made carbon negative. If the resulting hydrocarbons are used to make plastics, and at the end of the day these are then landfilled, you have locked up (for a very long time for many plastic) the embedded carbon.

      But you still need the zero carbon hydrogen - more nukes anyone ?

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        The part you've missed is that there isn't any requirement for hydrogen. From the article:

        "Inside the reactor, temperatures reach approximately 1,500°C (2,732°F), which is hot enough to split captured carbon dioxide and atmospheric water vapor to form syngas."

        The whole point is that it takes carbon dioxide and water from the air, splits them to get carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and then combines those into useable fuel. There are no inputs other than air and energy.

    7. Sub 20 Pilot

      The catch is that governments will find it difficult to tax without lying about why as it is not messing up the environment.

      Also it will affect the trillion pound industries that fleece the world by supplying fuel resources currently.

      I doubt this will be allowed by any Western government until they can find a way to secure the rights etc. for the incumbent parasite oil / gas producers.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Most western (and other) governments would love to be able to remove the need for importing hydrocarbons at great expense, they'd be able to get their sticky paws on the money that's currently leaving.

  3. Persona Silver badge

    Chemical process

    Carbon neutral jet fuel is not a new concept. This development is just another chemical process for making it. Siemens and others have been working on it for some time.

    In March 2021 Rolls Royce flew an Airbus A350 on 100% synthetic fuel https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jun/17/rolls-royces-jet-engines-to-run-on-synthetic-fuels-as-part-of-net-zero-plans

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Chemical process

      The big difference here is that existing syngas projects - including the British Airways and Rolls Royce demonstrators - are using biological matter as feedstock. This is either ambiguously described as "waste products" (e.g. cooking oil), in which case we have no hope of ever scaling to global needs or is derived directly from US-subsidised bio-ethanol, and carries a large cost in terms of land, water, fertiliser use, food price pressures and carbon impact.

      Producing fuel straight from air in a cost-effective manner would be a game changer.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Chemical process

        This process would also require land. Anything harvesting energy from sunlight uses the land on which that sunlight falls. If a process produces something from waste products (why do you use scare quotes?) then the land has already been used in whatever process it was wasted from. You also need to consider how the waste might otherwise have been disposed of; waste organic matter is apt to give rise to methane if simply buried.

        1. RichardBarrell

          Re: Chemical process

          Ideally we'd use the shittiest, least-otherwise-useful land on Earth for it.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Chemical process

            But as commentards have pointed out below, there isn't enough of it. Not nearly enough. Not enough by several planets' worth. Fossil fuels have built up over geological time and they're being burnt in a few years. When it's gone it's gone. We need much smarter solutions than this.

          2. Chet Mannly

            Re: Chemical process

            Come to Australia - we have masses of useless sun-drenched desert that is ideal for this kid of thing.

            1. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: Chemical process

              >Come to Australia - we have masses of useless sun-drenched desert that is ideal for this kid of thing.<

              It still doesn't make sense. With the efficiency so low, it would be better to use that land for just about anything else after covering it with solar PV and concentrators for process heat.

        2. Tom 38 Silver badge

          Re: Chemical process

          There's plenty of land that has lots of sunlight but isn't suitable for agriculture.

          They've used quotes because the "waste products" are either not really waste (there's plenty of uses for used cooking oil already), and to do it at the scale required to replace all aviation fuel, there's not enough "waste"to do it, so instead of using "waste", we'd be growing things specifically for use in this, and then they aren't waste at all. Not scare quotes, but noting that they think its a euphemism.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Chemical process

            "There's plenty of land that has lots of sunlight but isn't suitable for agriculture."

            It would still need something with a much bigger yield than this. How, I wonder, does this compare with using the same area as the reflector to grow algae?

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              Re: Chemical process

              How, I wonder, does this compare with using the same area as the reflector to grow algae?

              To grow algae, you need water next to the sunlight, lots of places with lots of sunlight and no relevant amounts of water for either agriculture or algae.

              1. imanidiot Silver badge

                Re: Chemical process

                Problem is that many people forget that solar plants need lots of water too for things like cleaning the mirrors, keeping the primates that operate the place hydrated, etc. Maybe not as much as algae, but in a closed system I don't think it'd be that much of a difference.

        3. druck Silver badge

          Re: Chemical process

          There are now quite a few floating solar plants on reservoirs, so they don't have to be on land. Although these are just PV cells, if you need to focus reflected sunlight at a point, this may not work as well on a moving surface.

      2. Persona Silver badge

        Re: Chemical process

        No. The Siemens project uses solar power in Abu Dhabi to electrolyse water to make hydrogen which is then used through a number of steps to make the aviation fuel.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Chemical process

          >No. The Siemens project uses solar power in Abu Dhabi to electrolyse water to make hydrogen which is then used through a number of steps to make the aviation fuel.<

          The efficiency for that is likely scary low. I can see that sometimes even a very inefficient process is useful for a very niche application, but if you are looking for ways to mass produce transportation fuels, it's a dead end street.

  4. The Kraken

    If you can do that for jet fuel we may as well run cars on the stuff, and forget batteries.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Does anyone know of the "Solchem" project of the mid 70's sponsored by the US Navy?

    This was the plan to heat a collector to drive a reversible chemical reaction. The heat is now stored in a new gas mixture which does not need insulated pipes to carry it. At the store it would dump this into a huge mound of aerosol cans will with more-or-less common salt.

    Everything was done to make the project scale up as the USN realised their energy usage could be measured in Quads*

    The attrive feature about solar thermal is it acts as a black body, absorbine sunlight at any wavelength. There is no effective "Band gap" where verything with longer wavelength just heats the PV cell, and everything with short wavelenght gives the elctron a bit more energy (making them get to the cathode faster? I'm not sure if that translate into actual greater poweer output)

    This also starts to close the cycle of CO2 emissions.

    Sadly given that most of the GHG's have lifetimes ranging from decades to millenia (AFAIK only water vapor++ and tropospheric ozone are on the order of days or weeks) and GW potentials 1000x of times that of CO2 this will not stop the impending extinction of the human race. :-(

    *1 quad= 172.45 million barrels of oil.

    ++ Water vapor is #1 and has a lifetime of 8-9 days. IOW if you surpress most evaporation to the atmospheree you could start to see improvement within 2 weeks. All you have to do is surpress (or drastically reduce) all evaporation of the worlds oceans, rivers and reservoirs (primarily the oceans, given the are 70% of the worlds surface area). How you do that is left as an exercise for the reader. May I suggest "ping pong balls."

    1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Does anyone know of the "Solchem" project of the mid 70's sponsored by the US Navy?

      > this will not stop the impending extinction of the human race. :-(

      Which IPCC RPC model refers to that scenario?

      You anti-science climate deniers are tedious.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        You anti-science climate deniers are tedious.

        What an interesting (and rather curious) use of language.

        Climate change is real. The models predict more extreem weather events (both hot and cold) with rising average temeprature

        Ohhh look. That appears to be happening.

        When you look at the lists of GHG's outside of H2O,CO2 and O3 you get into some pretty exotic chemistry, Pretty much all chlorinated and fluorinated compounds, SF6 being one of the simpler and widely used in HV switchgear. Only quite extreme conditions can make them outside of a specific chemical plant,

        The problem is the cumulative effect of them. CO2 has a life in the atmosphere of 300-1000 years. IOW if all CO2 production stopped today it would take at least 3 centuries to drop back to the natural background level. Some of those compounds have atmospheric lifetimes of >4000 years. Without active measures to decompose or sequester them* I'd say the status of the human race is "Cooked." :-(

        *Some work has been done at using dual lasers (CO2/Ar+) to decompose SF6. The CO2 laser heated it to an excited state causing it to absorb relavitely long wavelength UV and split the molecule, provided a 2nd molecule (H2 IIRC in the tests) was available to mop up the fragments as H2S and HF.

        I'd suggest a string of well streamlined low orbit satellites firing the CO2 downard through a mirror. Something similar might work for the other ones.

        Alternatively I'd go for the spraying of aerosols in the jetstream of algae. Ideally the drops have enough water and nutrients inside them so the algae consume CO2 (and maybe other GHG?), combine with the water and create a heavier-than-air particle that sinks, sequestering the carbon in seabed silt or falling fertiliser.

        The catch? Dumping an aerosol of water (the most potent GHG) into the atmosphere could make it worse and accelerate the process.

        And the 6 Billion people question is of course who will pay for this.

        1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

          Re: You anti-science climate deniers are tedious.

          I stopped reading early on into your post because the post I mocked for being anti-science said that climate change was going to cause the extinction of the human race.

          That isn't science. That's science fiction.

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Unhappy

            I stopped reading early on into your post .....

            Between sea level rise and severe weather events I'm expecting a very large number of displaced persons pursuing a very small pie.

            Multiply by wars for natural resouces (because politician will think "F**k this we're already so deep in the hole making a bit more CO2 won't matter") and I would be very surprised (if I was still alive) if the human race made it through this in viable numbers.

            What do you know? Maybe this is the "Great filter" that's why we hear no radio signals from other stars.

            1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

              Re: I stopped reading early on into your post .....

              > "I'm expecting"

              So the science isn't expecting, you're just having a guess.

              Got it.

    2. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Does anyone know of the "Solchem" project of the mid 70's sponsored by the US Navy?

      > All you have to do is surpress (or drastically reduce) all evaporation of the worlds oceans ...

      Hmm. I wonder what side-effect that might have? I'll save that thought for a rainy day...

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Hmm. I wonder what side-effect that might have?

        Done on a large enough scale the effects shoudl be both massive and quick to show (weeks, not years0

        That's sort of the point.

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Does anyone know of the "Solchem" project of the mid 70's sponsored by the US Navy?

      For context, nearly every physicist and chemist would routinely write "and may have military applications" at the bottom of grant applications in the 1970s.

  6. Swordfish1

    I worked as a petrochem scientist for an oil refinery for 22 years Syngas is nothing new, it's been used for many decades, to for synthesis of various products in the refinery.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Yes, that's what makes this so interesting. Syngas chemistry is well understood so having large amounts of very cheap renewable syngas could be a game changer.

    2. IGotOut Silver badge

      Did you read the article?

      It very clearly states its not new.

      It's the process of making it that is the twist.

    3. Stevie

      Bah!

      Didn’t the Germans use it during WWII?

      They couldn’t make it in vast enough quantities to power their mighty panzer divisions though, if I remember the Smithsonian Channel documentary right.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        Germany was using coal as the starting point so that's not really a good option anymore.

        They could have made enough for their needs if they hadn't had regular visits by the RAF & USAAF landscaping specialists.

  7. Twanky Silver badge

    Anyone got any more paper napkins?

    At 15kW they hope to be able to produce Kerosene at 20% efficiency.

    Combustion energy of Kerosene is about 36MJ/l

    So they need 36*5 = 180 MJ = 50 kWh to produce 1 litre of Kerosene.

    For 15kW they focus solar energy onto a 16 inch aperture (square?) and average 2,500 solar equivalents. So their collecting reflectors are 16*16*2500 = 640,000 sq inch or 413m2.

    To get 50kW they need 1,376m2 of reflectors

    1,376m2 of reflectors should produce Kerosene at 1 l/h

    A 747 jet burns kerosene at about about 136,000 l/h

    To get 136,000 l/h they need about 187km2 of reflectors.

    187km2 of reflectors to keep one 747 fuelled. Assuming the jet only flies the same number of hours the converter can run each day. Remember, this is at the suggested 20% efficiency - they've so far only got 4%

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Anyone got any more paper napkins?

      Yes, jet fuel is a poor example of when to use this. Combine that with the high temperature required and it limits where you can do it. For example, if you need water from the atmosphere you can't do this in the desert.

      Other processes already exist at scale, like the Sunfire one, but more work is required as we still need to reduce the temperatures required for the reduction.

      The low hanging fruit is something that can be driven by wind power so it can run at night and store fuel locally in closed loop energy systems in areas where energy is required: anything off grid reduces peak load and, thus, how much capacity needs provisioning. And, if we can cover our domestic and industrial energy requirements like this in the winter, then in the summer we can consider other uses and long term sequestration.

      I skimmed an abstract by the Max Planck Institute that shows there is potential for improvement. We need to do more research on this and things like methanol fuel cells but, thus far, industry is holding out for bigger subsidies for the hydrogen white elephant.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Anyone got any more paper napkins?

      This doesn’t match https://www.flightdeckfriend.com/ask-a-pilot/how-much-fuel-does-a-jumbo-jet-burn/ which says…

      A Jumbo Jet (Boeing 747-400) flying from London to New York burns approximately 70,000 kilograms of fuel. Jet fuel has an approximate specific gravity of 0.85, which therefore equates to 82,353 litres.

      That’s a factor of 10ish different to the 747 consumptions above.

      But which is right? (Fight!)

      I’m still not claiming this is a good idea mind. Given incident sunlight has about 1kw/m^2 you would think that 250m^2 at 20% efficiency should give 50kW, not 1376m^2. So that efficiency number is a bit fishy

      1. Twanky Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Anyone got any more paper napkins?

        Yes,

        I can't find (or be bothered to look further) for the reference I found for a 747's fuel consumption. I've just looked and found a very different number of 18,000 gallons in 5 hours. Assuming these are the undersized US gallons that's about 16365924 cc/hr - or approximately 31,256.5393 grapefruits.

        Cheers.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Anyone got any more paper napkins?

          Depending on the model, 747s can have quite different fuel loads but the usable max is around 190 tonnes with optional tanks installed. Fuel burn rate depends on the total weight being carried and the engine type.

          200+ pages of everything you've never asked about the 747-400 can be found here.

          https://www.boeing.com/resources/boeingdotcom/commercial/airports/acaps/747_4.pdf

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Anyone got any more paper napkins?

        >Given incident sunlight has about 1kw/m^2<

        At the top of the atmosphere, but not at ground level. The figure gets used as a measuring point for solar PV because the math becomes so much easier.

  8. Tim 11
    Trollface

    only 4% efficient ?

    how many suns would we need to meet the global need?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: only 4% efficient ?

      One sun but how many planets?

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: only 4% efficient ?

      With Starship ready for over 1,000 launches per day in just another month or two, we could build a Dyson Sphere and capture 100% of the sun's output so .........................

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        With Starship ready for over 1,000 launches per day in just another month or two

        Well that sounds exciting. Except...

        They haven't actually achieved orbit yet and the last test flight was a few months ago. ;-(

        And then there's the AvLeak article saying that the F9 booster is currently expected to survive 15 launches.

        That number has been going up on average 2 extra launches a year for the last 7 years. 3 more years and it could copy 20.

        We can expect Starship to be better, but how much better?

        No one knows. If F9 can do 10s of launches now a 100 launches seems a rasonable goal but a 1000? 10000? I think the indication is that VTOL gives all stages a hell of a beating. Way more intense than any HTOL vehicle ever experiences.

        While I wish them well and think they might reach orbit before the end of the year I reckon they've no chance of making Mars by 2024 (IOW Mars ready launch by end of this years launch window, around November).

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: With Starship ready for over 1,000 launches per day in just another month or two

          "Well that sounds exciting. Except...

          They haven't actually achieved orbit yet and the last test flight was a few months ago. ;-(

          "

          I was being very sarcastic. Something with the overall shape of Starship has flown once without blowing up. The booster has never flown and they had an explosion when they last did a flow test so it would seem that they have a way to go on that. Once the booster is worked out, they have to built test articles with stuff inside. They also need to work out how to deploy a payload to orbit and re-close the upper stage in a way that doesn't compromise the heat shielding which has been problematic in keeping affixed to the rocket.

          To get to Mars, they need to develop a way to transfer fuel in orbit via several tanker flights so they have the fuel to get to the Red Planet. A maneuver that hasn't been done before. Neither has catching a rocket with chopsticks been done. Not impossible, but if it goes wrong on a multi-flight mission, they are going to need a backup "integration tower" or two. Everything needs to be done before the money runs out. The last round of fund raising didn't meet their goals. Elon might wind up on the ropes if the court forces him to buy Twitter and he needs to raise the cash to do so.

          Starlink is a burn pit at this juncture, not a source of profits. If funding runs out before they can get enough satellites up and maintain the constellation, that's going to be a huge problem.

  9. b0llchit Silver badge
    Boffin

    At scale???

    Kerosene is about 45 MJ/kg. At 15 kW and (hoped for) 20% efficiency they can optimally create one kilogram in 15000 seconds (just over 4 hours).

    An A320 burns about 2500 kg/h kerosene. For one hour of flight it takes 10416 hours to produce the fuel. To put it all in perspective... you need to scale up with four order of magnitude just to support one plane.

    There are, give or take, about 10000 planes in the air at any given time, some smaller, some larger. To support all planes you need to scale up with eight orders of magnitude. To make it worse; you need space for the mirrors. With the sun at about a kiloWatt per square meter and a scale of 15 times 108, you will need 1500 km2 constantly in the sun. Or, effectively, for the mirrors alone, you need four times the area around the globe to cover daylight and at least double that to mitigate clouds, accounting to about 12000 km2. Then you still need to place all the syngas installations and other infrastructure in place.

    We are now talking the size of countries here, just to support our flying addiction.

    (Darn, ninja'ed by Twanky)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

      It is not very popular to say, but all of the world could be powered by a 400 by 400km square of solar panel in the Sahara desert.

      David MacKay wrote a book that showed how "easy" that is "Sustainable energy without the hot air"

      Forbes had an article about it in 2016: We Could Power The Entire World By Harnessing Solar Energy From 1% Of The Sahara

      From the Forbes article:

      The total world energy usage (coal+oil+hydroelectric+nuclear+renewable) in 2015 was 13,000 Million Ton Oil Equivalent (13,000 MTOE) - see World Energy Consumption & Stats. This translates to 17.3 Terawatts continuous power during the year.

      Now, if we cover an area of the Earth 335 kilometers by 335 kilometers with solar panels, even with moderate efficiencies achievable easily today, it will provide more than 17,4 TW power. This area is 43,000 square miles. The Great Saharan Desert in Africa is 3.6 million square miles and is prime for solar power (more than twelve hours per day). That means 1.2% of the Sahara desert is sufficient to cover all of the energy needs of the world in solar energy. There is no way coal, oil, wind, geothermal or nuclear can compete with this. The cost of the project will be about five trillion dollars, one time cost at today's prices without any economy of scale savings. That is less than the bail out cost of banks by Obama in the last recession.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

        Fine, as soon as we have that World Government and have abolished all terrorism and internal security threats. Until then, I can see a problem with have the world's energy supply located in one place with the mother-of-all-wires leading out to the rest of the planet.

        Sure, in practice you'd need to have at least 12 hours of energy storage capacity all over the planet just to smooth out the diurnal variation in output from your panels and so in practice you'd probably put similar arrays in the middle of Australia and similar places, but there are plenty of countries that don't have "similar places" and they'd be 100% dependent on the reliability of supply from their sunnier neighbours.

        On the other hand, you are quite correct to point out that how we currently power our civilisation is pretty idiotic. A commenter in another thread on this site noted yesterday that the supposedly extortionate price of nuclear power at the UK's proposed/under-construction/dither-for-decades next reactor is less than half of what we are now paying as a result of our "dash for gas" in the late '90s. (Hey, kids, can you believe that your parents actually did a dash for gas in the late 90s, about 20 years after "the Greenhouse Effect" entered the popular consciousness as a thing? It's because we closed down our nuclear program in the 80s and replaced it with ... nothing at all ... and then realised 10 years later than we were about to decommission most of our generating capacity.)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

          > Until then, I can see a problem with have the world's energy supply located in one place with the mother-of-all-wires leading out to the rest of the planet.

          Did you notice there are quite a number of uninhabited deserts in the world? Actually, there is one on every continent (some have more) except Europe, for the time being (Some places on the Mediterranean are quickly developing to remedy that defect). Antarctica has "deserts" but has other "disadvantages" for solar power generation. I assume people in the Americas and East Asia could look for a nearby desert?

          > Sure, in practice you'd need to have at least 12 hours of energy storage capacity all over the planet just to smooth out the diurnal variation

          Indeed, no one claims there will not be new infrastructure needed, and electrical storage (batteries) for this function are already cheaper than electricity from nuclear power, dropping in price fast. Also, people are seriously looking at producing hydrogen from solar power to convert into all kinds of useful stuff, e.g., liquid fuels.

          But if you look at the number of oil tankers afloat at any one moment, and oil storage on land, energy storage is not new. If you look at the political stability and intentions of current suppliers of energy, e.g., Russia, Middle-East, the Sahara looks positively good.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

            Deserts may have sunshine, but the other substance required for large scale hydrogen/hydrocarbon manufacture - water - is in notably short supply

        2. DS999 Silver badge

          It was an example, not a suggestion

          No one would recommend building infrastructure to supply the world's energy in one place, if for no other reason than how hard it would be to send that power to the rest of the world even if you had superconducting cable available.

          It was just illustrating how small the area would be compared to the size of the world, or even the size of the world's largest desert for those doubters who always say things like "so you want to cover the whole world in solar panels".

      2. b0llchit Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

        Outsource the entire production of energy to one single point-of-failure. What could possibly go wrong?

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

        Energy is used all over the place. One of the problem with such centralised schemes is distributing it to where it's needed. The other is storage.

        And that's without some idiot deciding to use all of it to mine Bitcoin.

      4. veti Silver badge

        Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

        I'd like to see how the author came up with that cost estimate. Specifically, how he costed the >200 TWh of storage and the TW-capacity global (i.e. trans-oceanic) transmission grid, and what he has allowed for losses during storage and transmission. And what assumptions he made about the cost of land to put all this infrastructure on. Also the maintenance and depreciation of the solar panels themselves...

        Once we've thrashed all that out, we can begin to think about the politics. Which specific Saharan country should be entrusted with producing all the world's energy? How would we ensure that countries couldn't hold a "downstream" country to ransom by threatening to cut its supply?

        Once we've answered those, then we can begin thinking about little details like who, specifically, is going to build and run this thing. I can't offhand think of any engineering company that has ever delivered a project of 0.1% of this scale for less than 400% of its original budget.

      5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        David MacKay..a book that showed how "easy" that is "Sustainable energy without the hot air"

        He did, and I wish more people would read it (it's free to download). I also wish he hadn't dies so young.

        And the fact you have "Easy" in quotes should tell you how tough it would actually be.

        What are you going to do at night?

        If you say "Batteries" I'd tell the biggest battery on the planet is 300MW/1200MWh. IE 4 hours before it needs a recharge.

        Blighty is roughly 75Gw, so for 8 hours that's 500 of them.

        How much capacity you'd need for the rest of the planet I'll leave for someone else to work out.

        1. RobvS

          Re: David MacKay..a book that showed how "easy" that is "Sustainable energy without the hot air"

          > If you say "Batteries" I'd tell the biggest battery on the planet is 300MW/1200MWh. IE 4 hours before it needs a recharge.

          The largest oil storage tank currently in construction is 270,000 cubic meters. That is a lot, but far from enough to handle the needs of a country. So, people have more of them. The same will hold with batteries, which do not have to be your run of the mill Li ion battery.

          Yes, there is a need for a storage infrastructure. If we all have EV cars, then we can use their batteries for the night, ie, Vehicle to Grid. So, more EV cars means also more batteries for the times we do have less production. The concept of selling back your power into the grid has already been developed and is in trial in many places.

          > Blighty is roughly 75Gw, so for 8 hours that's 500 of them.

          I assume Blighty has more than 500 oil tanks for storage of (crude) oil.

          1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

            Re: David MacKay..a book that showed how "easy" that is "Sustainable energy without the hot air"

            If we all have EV cars, then we can use their batteries for the night, ie, Vehicle to Grid

            Err, 'ang on a moment.

            My usage, and that of many others is that we use our car in the morning to go to work - and park where we can't charge it (either at all, or economically). At the end of the day, we drive home again and plug in (well I don't as I don't have an EV, but I would be if I did). I am far from alone in that.

            So a typical usage pattern is to need lecky overnight to charge the car.

            For the idea of "we don't need to bother about grids storage, all the EV owners will do it" ignores the inconvenient issue that a significant proportion (probably majority) could not do this without "buying high, selling low" by charging away from home at stupid rates (to sell cheaply later) instead of charging at home which (other than free chargers which means someone else is paying) is the cheapest place to charge.

            And it also ignores the effect on battery life of additional charge/discharge cycles - hence an additional cost in battery wear and tear, and sooner replacement costs or lower resale value*.

            * A friend went to look at a car, plugged in his diagnostics, and it said the battery was on it's last legs. The cost of a replacement battery was about what the dealer was asking for the car. When he pointed this out, my friend was "asked to leave".

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: David MacKay..a book that showed how "easy" that is "Sustainable energy without the hot air"

              Actually, people did think about this. They reasoned that people's cars are generally parked all day, when the sun shines and solar power is ultra cheap (we saw negative prices this year) and they park their cars at home all night, when the sun does not shine and power is expensive.

              They reasoned too that if you offer people money for a part of their charge overnight, they would gladly sell them the power.

              Tests have shown that people are really willing to make some money on the price differences.

              Currently, the charging infrastructure is primitive and overly expensive. But, as power outlets in every building in the developed world show, that is not necessary. It is not exactly science fiction to imagine a world where you can charge your car for little more than the price of the electricity, jus as I can charge a phone or an electrical bicycle for little more than the electricity costs.

              As for battery wear, car batteries have shown to be much more robust than expected /feared. Obviously, there is a compensation for wear in the price paid for vehicle to grid power.

              1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

                Re: David MacKay..a book that showed how "easy" that is "Sustainable energy without the hot air"

                It is not exactly science fiction to imagine a world where you can charge your car for little more than the price of the electricity

                True, it's not science fiction - just economic fantasy for the foreseeable future.

                Adding a charge socket to each parking space is a totally different proposition to putting power sockets in an office. In the office, you put multiple sockets, on multiple circuits, all from a fairly modest supply. True, it would fall over if everyone plugged in a fan heater at the same time - but that doesn't generally happen.

                Charging points for cars are a different matter. Unless you really restrict the capacity, then you don't get many off a typical commercial office site supply. So you could find things restricted to maybe just 5A/car if everyone was doing the "charge at work, sell back overnight" trick - and for many that wouldn't even get them to the office and back, let alone leave them with excess to sell.

                So now you're into massive site supplies - which come with "reassuringly expensive" costs, which would naturally get passed onto the car users. By the time you've paid the standing charges for the supply, the install and maintenance charges for the charging points, then the costs of the lecky, and then added the intermediary's markup for managing everything - it's not going to be cheap, to the point where a) it's not going to work to charge at the office during the day, and b) it'll put off adoption of EVs some more.

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: David MacKay..a book that showed how "easy" that is "Sustainable energy without the hot air"

              >My usage, and that of many others is that we use our car in the morning to go to work <

              Obviously there has to be a way to place limits on how much power you are willing to sell back to the grid and at what price. While many places don't have options for charging an EV RIGHT NOW, there may be in the not too distant future.

              There seem to be so many people that rage against EV's because they don't have off-street parking. I figured out long ago that I have no desire to live somewhere with housing that dense. I say "tough" you don't get an EV and that's that. Maybe it's time to take a look at why you live someplace where you are cheek by jowl with your neighbors. Are you happy living packed in like that or is there tension due to neighbors making more noise than you like? With the one exception of the neighbor in my area that has a military grade sound system, the only problems I have are with a certain ethnic group that holds the belief that their "music" needs to be heard and felt and cruise slowly through the city to share it with everybody.

          2. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: David MacKay..a book that showed how "easy" that is "Sustainable energy without the hot air"

            >If we all have EV cars, then we can use their batteries for the night, ie, Vehicle to Grid. <

            The problem with that is The Grid often can have a surplus of generation at night and demand is quite low. It's better to have lots of places to plug in a car and be able to transmit pricing down the line so when supply is abundant, an EV, home battery or other storage device can charge up at a lower cost. That might be in the middle of the day when a strong storm is pushing the wind turbines like mad off of the NW coast.

      6. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

        "The Great Saharan Desert in Africa is 3.6 million square miles and is prime for solar power (more than twelve hours per day)"

        It's also amazingly good for sand blasting and burial by dunes. And 335 kilometers by 335 kilometers of solar panels would be a hard maintenance problem (quite apart from the capital cost of installation). And even where the Sahara is not primarily shifting sand, it's an incredibly harsh dust-ridden environment.

        As a parallel, in the relatively mild environment of the Isle of Lewis (Hebrides, Scotland), less than ten years saw out the life span of many wind turbines due to the shell sand that blows off the beaches when the wind gets going.

        Quite apart from which, even the Sahara is not 'virgin territory' where we can just march in and build solar farms - quite a lot of people look on it as theirs and they would have to agree.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

          "It's also amazingly good for sand blasting and burial by dunes."

          Not all of the Sahara is sand dunes. Most of the Sahara is rocky terrain. But all of it is hot. Maybe that is why Morocco is using concentrated solar power? That does not have problems with the place being hot.

          "And 335 kilometers by 335 kilometers of solar panels would be a hard maintenance problem"

          I would not assume that all would be build at the same place. That would be positively moronic. I do assume the people building this will think it through and read all sources for improvement, e.g., the comments at The Register.

      7. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

        Your array would also probably only operate for a week tops before output has dropped by 75% or more due to parts of it being buried in sand the and the rest being covered by fine wind blown dust.

        PV also doesn't like heat, something the Sahara has plenty off during the daytime. There's no way in hell a PV array of 43,000 square miles in the middle of the desert would ever even approach it's rated power output. Even at optimal solar conditions the heat and dust will degrade output severely. I'm sorry to say this but as an engineer all I can say is that anyone who claims the Sahara can provide all the power we need has simply not understood the engineering.

        If you have PV panels on your home, simply have a look at the yearly output. (If you're in Blighty or similar latitutes) You'll find your best months in terms of output are probably March and April, maybe June. After that output drops. Even if the amount of incident light and hours of sunlight every day should be better. And the simple reason is heat. You're panels get too hot in the Juli sun baking down and degrade performance severely.

      8. Stevie

        Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

        Solar orbit power sats would even better, but skittish investors and NIMBYites cringe at the “micorwave transfer” bit.

        Thorium reactors, anyone?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

          "Microwave Transfer" in quotes is appropriate because my mental image is less friendly radio waves, more Mars Attacks.

        2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

          Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

          The problem with solar orbit sats is that although they have a vast amount of space (how much of earth's orbit does earth occupy ?) and no nightside, there isn't any CO2 or water in solar orbit.

          I guess maybe we could spit out power pills at them as we pass. Maybe with an electrically powered rail gun. But that's another semi-available tech to rely on.

          1. Stevie

            Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

            Why would you put them in Earth's orbit?

            Inverse square law means that somewhere closer to the sun would be ideal.

            Not sure what CO2 or Water have to do with anything.

            One is talking about clean power, not CO2 fracking.

            Power is sent back using high power maser which is converted nearby into usable electricity.

            That can be cleanly used on Earth, at very low cost once the infrastructure is established.

            Once can do all sorts of things with large amounts of clean electricity.

            One could, for example, cook CO2 into syngas - just to get rid of the atmospheric carbon, since we'd have all the electricity for traveling that we could use.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

          Thorium reactors come up all the time, but no one seems to actually be able to build them.

          And it is not for want of trying. But there are many plans, there have been many plans for decades. When you do the cost benefit calculations, things get thorny. Thorium reactors are still expensive to build, manage, and decommission. .

          The one disadvantage that seems to have ruined all the Thorium plans is that you cannot make plutonium with it so you could not make bombs. You could say that this is an advantage, but, of course, wind & solar are still way cheaper, so why bother.

          Oh, and thorium is less rare than fissible Uranium, but still limited. Wind and solar are endless. If the world will go thorium only, it will have to plan for when that has become too rare/expensive to use. Uranium can power the world for 5 years, Thorium maybe 25 years, or even 50. Then this will start over all again. So again, why bother.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

            "Thorium reactors come up all the time, but no one seems to actually be able to build them."

            Wuwei has been running since October 2021

            There's zero danger of "running out" of thorium. You need to learn how "reserves" and "resources" work. Right now there's officially no resources because there's no demand - that's despite several hundred thousand of tons of the stuff being buried in shiopping containers in the Utah desert and virtually every rare earth mine on the planet each producing at least 5000 tons per year (it's the primary waste product of rare earth mining and present in minable quantities in coal ash slurry lakes amongst other things)

            In reality there's around 200,000 years worth of thorium just based on the stuff we've found whilst NOT looking for it. It's _everywhere_ in the earth's crust.

            1. Wellyboot Silver badge

              Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

              Similar for Uranium, there's an awful lot not being mined because the demand just isn't there.

              1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

                >Similar for Uranium, there's an awful lot not being mined because the demand just isn't there.<

                This happens a lot with elements and minerals that aren't in large demand. Cobalt gets a bad name when it's just another element that hasn't been in high demand so it's only sourced where it's most plentiful by people that don't have anything else to do to put food on the table. It's very useful in Li chemistry batteries and makes them even more valuable for recycling. Uranium was thought to be very scarce and the US was buying up all they could find during the time the Manhattan program was going so Germany would have a hard time getting any and the US could tie up all of the finds. After it wasn't so important to protect the secret of Uranium's potential, prospectors were finding it all over the place. Lithium is being found down old mines in Cornwall now that it's in high demand.

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

              >"Thorium reactors come up all the time, but no one seems to actually be able to build them."

              <

              The US had one running for a couple of years before the program was quashed by President Nixon and before the next iteration could be made that included continuous processing of the fuel. The Chinese paid a visit and picked up all of the plans and will hold the patents in another couple of years when they have a commercial system all worked out.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

              "Wuwei has been running since October 2021"

              It connected to the grid in Dec 20. These are two test reactors. That is a giant step, but still experimental.

              "In reality there's around 200,000 years worth of thorium just based on the stuff we've found whilst NOT looking for it."

              There is 4 times as much Thorium in the Earth's crust than Uranium. If used as the sole energy supplier, Uranium can power the world fro ~5 years until it is gone. Thorium will then be useful for 20 years?

              If you think of getting Uranium from the ocean, then think about processing multiple cubic kilometers/miles of seawater on a yearly basis for a small country. That is not exactly economically viable.

          2. Stevie

            Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

            Wind and solar are not "endless" of course, otherwise Britain would already be roofed in solar panels and every house would have a windmill and the electricity Board would have taken a well-deserved hike yonks ago.

            Solar works when the sun is out bright enough and long enough, and even then it works only kindasorta otherwise Walt Disney World wouldn't need to be on the grid despite acres of solar panels all over the Orlando/Kissimmee area and baking hot sun most of the year.

      9. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: At scale??? Yes, easily

        >That means 1.2% of the Sahara desert is sufficient to cover all of the energy needs of the world in solar energy. <

        Elon thinks that the US could be powered by just a corner of the state of Utah being covered with solar PV. It starts falling over when you find out the state isn't flat, the environmentalists would band together and have somebody with a thick neck track Elon down to have a short conversation with him and to install the HV transmission lines everywhere would take more energy to produce than all of those panels will put out in their lifetime.

        I'm not against putting up some solar installations in the Sahara, but the power would need to be used locally. If that power can transform local raw materials into useful products, it might help the continent join the first world and shift some industries that require lots of energy such as Aluminum production from bauxite and ammonia production if there is a useable fresh water source that doesn't kill off a swath of people if it's used.

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: At scale???

      I upvoted both you and Twanky because it's so refreshing to see ANYTHING in the energy, climate change universe that actually looks like engineering.

      FWIW, it looks like this scheme's eventual product MIGHT -- if everything goes unusually well -- be as much as four times as effective as the best current "Natural" source of liquid hydrocarbons which is palm oil. That's based on average output for 6 hours a day of usable sunshine at 20% efficiency and annual palm oil production of 3300kg per hectare.

  10. Schultz
    Facepalm

    What an achievement ... in hyperbole

    The researchers manage to be quite honest in describing their achievement, but at the same time they do an amazing job hyping their research.

    Did you catch that they use an area of about 50 nanoWales (2 Tennis courts, or ~1080 square meter) to make a few drops of jet fuel per hour? And they never mention how much energy went into the pumps, valves and motors required to run the whole set-up, so it is not clear that the set-up creates more energy than it consumes.

    This is the current reality of our energy transition -- a lot of hyped achievements that are only realistic when you pay no attention to the man behind the curtain (who is burning that cheap hydrocarbon energy to fuel you pipe dreams).

    1. breakfast

      Re: What an achievement ... in hyperbole

      As a counterpoint, how many important scientific achievements started out by offering the best possible results that the technology could offer? Hyperbole aside, this seems like an interesting starting point and there may well be something of value to come from it.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: What an achievement ... in hyperbole

        "Hyperbole aside, this seems like an interesting starting point and there may well be something of value to come from it."

        The danger is this sort of thing gets written up in the popular press where it's seen by some politician's staffer and all of a sudden some governments are pouring money down any rat hole that claims to be on the track to commercialize the "discovery". None of the politicians nor their staff usually have any training in anything but law. Rarely will you find any that understand science and engineering being rather deficient in the genes that let one do maths.

        This is a curiosity way off the end of the graph. It might give some insight into a similar process that could turn out to be useful, but perhaps not. For the time being, it should be left in the university labs until somebody clever spots the improvements that need to be made. There are many things that are feasible to do now or are much better candidates for getting research grant money. Is it the mystique of flying that makes something like this a flame for all of the moths?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: What an achievement ... in hyperbole

      "And they never mention how much energy went into the pumps, valves and motors required to run the whole set-up, so it is not clear that the set-up creates more energy than it consumes."

      If the input energy is coming from wind and/or solar, then the input energy may not be all that relevant so long as it's stupid amounts[*]. Of course, currently, that wind and solar has it's own carbon footprint because the supply chain to make the windmills and turbines isn'r carbon neutral. But that's not a reason to not try. As others have pointed out, in the case of long haul jet fuel usage, there is nothing on the horizon yet to replace hydrocarbons.

      [*]Stupid amounts might vary depending on the source, type and future improvements, innovations and inventions.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: What an achievement ... in hyperbole

        The problem is that we don't currently have enough wind and/or solar power to power the rest of our infrastructure. Until the day where we have to most definitely shot entire solar or wind farms down because we simply have nowhere to put the energy, project like this are not the most efficient use of that power.

        Same goes with the much touted hydrogen gas production through hydrolysis. As long we can be charging a BEV or something that's a more useful and efficient use of that energy than generating H2.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: What an achievement ... in hyperbole

          >Same goes with the much touted hydrogen gas production through hydrolysis. As long we can be charging a BEV or something that's a more useful and efficient use of that energy than generating H2.<

          If gas gets phased out and then banned, there will be more demand to use electricity to produce heat in homes. It's on my mind as my house uses propane. It would be difficult to make the changes to have an electric range, but if I can shift heating water to solar, an 8kg can of propane could last plenty long to not be much of a worry. Heating the house in the winter is already done with solar for the most part.

  11. chivo243 Silver badge
    Coat

    Scaramanga?

    on a tower-mounted solar reactor or is that a Solex reactor?

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Scaramanga?

      At least you get a powerful Laser for free with the Solex.

  12. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
    Holmes

    I have wondered whether syngas could be used in time for this winter. The Germans made oil and gas from coal during WW2.

    I wonder why that hasn't seen a come-back during price spikes as technology has surely advanced.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "from coal"

      I think you just answered your own question there. Any attempt to increase coal production will come with protests and legal challenges See, for example, the new Cumbrian coal mine. Intended for use in steel production. A huge carbon contributor, but still currently needed, but has to be better for the world as a whole if not directly for the UKs targets by mining it locally instead of mining it Russia and shipping it over. Not to mention the issues with Russia at the moment.

      1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

        Well yes, we'd have to import the coal, possibly even from Australia. And any protesters could be ignored in light of current energy prices.

        I'm just curious as to the economics and technical viability of it.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          We either make our own steel or we import it, to make our own there will be a requirement for coal, we can either dig ours up or import it.

          Technical viability - nothing here that we haven't been doing for centuries.

          Economics are a poor secondary to politics here - home production protects UK jobs at the steel plants we still have and provides new jobs at the coal mine* & quite a few spin off facilities in between.

          From a carbon perspective - not shipping the coal and or steel thousands of miles is a simple benefit.

          *until an economically viable method can be found to remove all the Oxygen from iron ore (Fe2O3) without binding it to Carbon to make vast amounts of CO2

          1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

            I'm not talking about coking coal.

            I'm talking about making oil and gas from coal.

            I know that the greens were lying about Cumbria - I don't need a reminder.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
              Happy

              I think we're all on the page here. I was just pointing out that no matter the use of coal, the "greens" will object to any new mine..

              Actually, I suspect your plan might be the best one possible. Making gas (NO MORE GAS) and oil (NO MORE OIL!!!!) from newly mined coal (NO MORE COAL!!!!11ONE!!) will likely give many of them apoplexy and maybe a few heart attacks. I mean, gas and oil is bad enough but MAKING MORE FROM COAL?????? OMG!!!!

              :-)

              1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
                Holmes

                Oh yes, I see. The first stage of my plan was to burn all the greens as a source of ecologically friendly power.

                Step two should be much more peaceful after that.

                Having said that, if we're going to get in a lie-off with the greens, we could say that destroying coal and turning it into "greener fuels" such as oil and gas is a good thing for the environment.

                1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                  >Oh yes, I see. The first stage of my plan was to burn all the greens as a source of ecologically friendly power.<'

                  If you sell tickets, you'll cover the cost of the coal.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I'm almost certain that there are several such projects in the offing. Syngas is used extensively in industry but the feedstock is usually natural gas so current market conditions will make alternatives attractive. Haven't looked at this for a while but I also think that this is the preferred method for using coal for energy.

      However, that just replaces one source of emissions with another. Creating it from atmospheric CO2 and water would be a new source.

      1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge

        I'm just talking about a more reliable and fault tolerant (ie: not Russian) source of gas to keep the global price stable over the medium term.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          In a global market you can't keep the price stable. You can either add capacity or reduce demand.

          When it comes to fossil fuel we've no this since the oil crisis of the early 1970s and have continued to do little about it in the hope that there will always be a new, cheap source.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stolen beer and beans

    Sin Gas

  14. a pressbutton

    *NOT* carbon neutral

    The plant has to be built.

    The fuel may be carbon-neutral, but once you factor in externalities, like the component manufacture, building, etc etc

    This is not carbon neutral.

    This is the sort of greenwash the greenies (quite rightly) accuse oilcos of.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: *NOT* carbon neutral

      You can always talk about the non-carbon-neutral supply chain while the world is in transition. But eventually, there will be a "boot strap" moment when, for example, the contents of a solar panel can be made using only renewables. It might take many more years, but there are moves afoot throughout most supply chains to "green" the system, and yes, some of that is "green washing" by trading carbon credits etc, cheating on emissions reporting and other fudging. Personally, I think we need a lot more nuclear, but that comes with it's own "green" protests and minbys

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: *NOT* carbon neutral

      You can calculate what it costs to build the plant and then how many hours / years / whatever it takes to recoup this. Most renewables have a positive balance within a couple of years and this design doesn't look that difficult.

      The bigger problems are the low yield, proposed use of the product and where to put the damn things.

  15. adam 40 Silver badge
    WTF?

    I am calling bullshit on this

    "Jet fuel that begins life as air and captured carbon, the researchers explained, is completely carbon-neutral because the fuel only produces as much carbon dioxide as went into its manufacturing."

    If they are talking about captured carbon from power stations and the like, no, that's not carbon neutral at all.

    Most of it comes from fossil fuels.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I am calling bullshit on this

      "If they are talking about captured carbon from power stations and the like, no, that's not carbon neutral at all."

      It's possible to read the article where it states "captured carbon dioxide" in the way you did. But within the first minute of the embedded video it makes it abundantly clear that all the constituent elements are taken directly from the ambient air. So no, they are not taking about "captured carbon" from fossil fuel emissions.

      At least RTFA before jumping to conclusions.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: I am calling bullshit on this

        Captured carbon or sucked out of the air, either way that's still far better than digging yet more fresh oil out of the ground to burn as jet fuel.

        Only air sourced carbon would be carbon neutral and that's a near perfect solution for aircraft, the solar requirements here are on the large side but any non CO2 source of electric will do to provide the power, the obvious one to keep the plants running 24/7 is nuclear.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: I am calling bullshit on this

          And also on the up side, even if initially they can only replace a small percentage of jet fuel, it's a start. There's already some biofuel usage, but that takes from food crop space. There's also that German testing which seems to show placing double sided solar panels mounted vertically in a north/south line is almost as efficient as the "traditional" mounting of solar panels but retains spacing for planting and harvesting between them giving true dual use of the land, more so than just using a solar farm for grazing sheep.

          I wonder what the rules are regarding the enormous amounts of open grassland there is inside the perimeter fence of an airport? Some will have to be there for emergencies, but I bet there's still a lot of space, eg between taxiways etc that could be used for solar panels.

  16. Stevie

    Bah!

    Reduce CO2 levels?

    Won’t somebody think of the trees?

    1. TeeCee Gold badge
      Coat

      Re: Bah!

      Save a tree, drive longer distances and take more holidays abroad.

  17. Sam_B.

    Not Good News for global warming.

    Not good news at all as roughly 90% of the global warming caused by jet aviation is from the direct greenhouse effect of contrails not from CO2 emissions, so any trick like this to label air travel as carbon neutral will still mean efforts to reduce air travel or come up with genuine alternatives are undermined.

    The reality is that levels of fast air transport need to massively reduce with the bulk taken over by electric rail transport. Obviously slower electric airship transport can also be a useful addition, but our present expectations to dash off to wherever we want, or to have plastic crap from China delivered in a day or two will need to be reconsidered if there is to be any hope of maintaining the livability of large areas of the planet.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Not Good News for global warming.

      An interesting article on the causes and mitigations of "damaging" contrails in this Wired article.

      The TL;DR is that only a very small number of total flights, mainly those in the evenings, cause about 80% of the contrail greenhouse effect and changing altitude up or down when causing them, can mitigate the effect by up to 60% or so. Reductions in numbers of flights would, of course be a great help too.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Not Good News for global warming.

        >Reductions in numbers of flights would, of course be a great help too.<

        So if there were train routes and schedules that made sense for more people. there would be less of a need for air travel. With an electric train, a whole bunch of the av fuel from the air process chain wouldn't be needed. Generate power from the sun, cram into a train.

  18. Alan Brown Silver badge

    The process isn't the problem

    The required amount of energy is the stumbling block

    With the best will in the world, solar isn't up to the task (the only places you have abundant sunshine have a lack of suitable water) - This is a job for nuclear heat (molten salt - water moderated nuclear isn't hot enough)

    WRT "air travel needing to be replaced by electric rail" - it's a "yes, but" situtation. The best long-term solution is intercontinental vac-trains (which have been on-again, off-again since the 1960s, hyperloop is nothing new), however unlike aviation most of these lines aren't usable until completed - which makes them politically and commercially hard to establish

    ALL the "solutions" based around manufacturing fuels (including hydrogen) run into the same problem - sourcing the amount of energy required is where the proponents always start invoking magick unicorn poop to obtain it

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: The process isn't the problem

      "vac-trains (which have been on-again, off-again since the 1960s, hyperloop is nothing new),"

      FWIW, more like the 1860's :-)

      But they had problems with seals back then. Leather impregnated with animal fat wasn't really up to the job. There was at least two different ideas. One was more like hyperloop using air pressure in a tunnel to pull the train. Another used a pipe between the tracks with a "dolly" inside to pull the train along using the same idea

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Misled by the headline

    Thought it was going to be about planes that get fuel chemicals out of the air which they are flying through. Now that would indeed be difficult....

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Misled by the headline

      >Thought it was going to be about planes that get fuel chemicals out of the air which they are flying through. Now that would indeed be difficult....<

      An atmospheric ram-scoop? That would be truly amazing.

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