Oxford firm's CO2 jet fuel paves the way for guilt-free air travel

OXCCU management team left to right: Tiancun Xiao, Naomi Wise, Andrew Symes and Jane Jin - David Fisher/Fisher Studios
OXCCU management team left to right: Tiancun Xiao, Naomi Wise, Andrew Symes and Jane Jin - David Fisher/Fisher Studios

Guilt-free air travel may be possible from 2030, after an Oxford University spin-off teamed up with United Airlines to make jet fuel from carbon dioxide.

In 2020, Oxford scientists announced they had discovered the process for transforming carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons that could be used to power aircraft.

The team set up OXCCU, which this week announced it had secured £18 million in funding from new investors including two global energy companies and United Airlines.

The company said the funding would help turn the product into a reality that could cut carbon emissions from fuel production. The team will be doubling its staff in Oxford as well as building a demonstrator plant at Oxford Airport.

Hope to future generations

Andrew Symes, its chief executive, said his goal was to be able to fly across the Atlantic sustainably and cost-effectively.

He told The Telegraph: “People want to continue flying but without the climate impact.

“Traditional vegetable oil based biofuels are limited by feedstock availability and land use. Hence people are turning to CO2 derived fuels.

“The challenge to date for CO2 derived fuels has been cost and that’s the challenge we’re solving. We’ve now demonstrated the performance at larger scales and over much longer periods of time.

“We’re giving hope to future generations by showing climate friendly air travel as we know it is possible. We are working towards being able to supply airlines by the end of the decade.”

Organic combustion method

Emissions from aircraft are a significant contributor to climate change, with a recent study estimating that aviation contributes around 4 per cent to human-induced global warming, more than most countries do.

The OXCCU process works through a process known as the “organic combustion method”, which effectively reverses the process of burning fuel.

It involves taking carbon dioxide and hydrogen and applying a catalyst made from iron, manganese and potassium to create hydrocarbons.

Currently, CO2 based fuel is more expensive than fossil based fuel but the company said that prices will fall over time. At first, only a small amount of fuel will be blended with traditional fossil fuels but the company expects more to be added over time.

The process can also be carried out in situ, meaning that countries can make their own fuel rather than needing to import it.

Sustainable aviation fuel is the best tool we have to decarbonise air travel, but we continue to face a significant supply shortage,” said Michael Leskinen, the president of United Airlines Ventures.

“The technology developed by OXCCU has the potential to resolve our supply problem by using CO2 as a feedstock to produce fuel.

“This cutting-edge solution could be a cost-effective pathway for United to reach our commitment of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, without relying on traditional carbon offsets.”