Recycling CO2 into low-carbon aviation fuel

21 December 2015

A £2m funding package has been announced to develop low carbon aviation fuels from captured CO 2 and waste biomass.

The multi-disciplinary project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will be led by engineers and scientists at Heriot-Watt University in conjunction with teams from Aston University, Oxford University and the University of Edinburgh. 

Not only does the research offer a lifeline to an aviation industry by offering the potential to 24% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, but it also offers a solution which is based on recycling waste biomass along with carbon captured from other CO2 producing industries. 

Energy security is of particular concern for the aviation sector which is currently dependent on fossil fuel but at the same time is faced with demands from the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) to reduce its carbon emissions by 50% by 2050. In contrast to ground transportation, there are no alternative fuel sources with sufficient energy density to fly a plane (for the next 50 years)) and in contrast to other transportation sectors, emissions from the aviation sectors are currently increasing 6% per year. 

The project will use new combinations of existing cutting-edge technologies to create a novel fuel which could in itself offer 24% cut in carbon emissions by 2050, and what’s more to do it using what are already undesirable waste products. 

The strength of the project team is its multi-disciplinary nature, bringing together specialists from the fields of engineering, chemistry, materials science and economics in a process which involves parallel gasification and co-electrolysis with other process engineering technologies to offer a step change in bio jet fuel production.

The use of waste materials to produce a much needed fuel alternative almost sounds like magic. Instead, insists project leader Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer, (Director of the Energy Academy), it’s more a matter of breaking down traditional academic barriers to bring together novel mixes of scientific and engineering expertise.

“Our project aims to produce low carbon synthetic aviation jet fuel using renewable energy from agricultural waste and forestry biomass and captured CO 2 .

“By combining knowledge and expertise from a range of normally separate specialisms we can break through barriers which have previously seemed intractable to develop a novel scientific and engineering process.

“We won’t suddenly be producing enough fuel to fly fleets of jets, but believe we can demonstrate a prototype process, based on existing technologies, which will produce a new, greener fuel and which can then be scaled up  for commercial production.”

Professor Philip Nelson EPSRC’s Chief Executive said: “If we are to meet the targets set in the new international agreement brokered in Paris we have to devise new ways of thinking , both in how we make and use energy and  how we address technological challenges. This new EPSRC-funded research can be part of our response to the challenge of climate change. ”

For further information, contact Jonathan Garbett on 0121 204 4552 or

Notes to Editors 

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture.

We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.