Direct Air Capture (DAC) is a revolutionary new technology, involving the direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. With applications in the decarbonisation of some of the most polluting industries on the planet — for example aviation, shipping and cement production — DAC has the potential to make a substantial dent in combating atmospheric cancer a.k.a climate change.

The aviation industry is facing its moment of reckoning. With the flight shame movement making waves across Europe, airlines are waking up to a new reality. Emirates’ CEO Sir Tim Cook went so far as to say that “We [in the aviation industry] aren’t doing ourselves any favours by chucking billions of tons of carbon into the air. It’s got to be dealt with”.

However, the reality of the matter is that the aviation industry is not going anywhere, and nor are their emissions — especially with today’s technologies. The aviation industry is currently responsible for 2.6% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and with passengers numbers forecast to double to 8.2 billion by 2037, the global impact of aviation is unlikely to be grounded anytime soon.

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Airliner on approach to Boston Logan International Airport

Today’s aviation industry has limited options for decarbonisation. It is doubtful that the public will be willing to hop on-board a hydrogen powered aircraft. Battery powered aircraft are also unlikely to ever be capable of flying long-haul routes; meaning alternative solutions and technologies will be necessary if aeroplanes are to continue flying and not indefinitely contribute to atmospheric cancer.

The aviation industry is considering a number of alternatives to present fossil-fuel sourced jet fuel, principally focused on a combination of bio-fuel and waste-to-fuel technologies. However the sustainability and scalability of bio-fuels as a replacement for fossil-based fuels has long been questioned. The World Resources Institute (WRI) has calculated that providing just 10% of the world’s liquid transportation fuel in the year 2050 would require nearly 30% of all the energy in a year’s worth of crops that the world currently produces.

DAC technology has the potential to address the drawbacks of these present alternative solutions. Direct air capture creates a concentrated stream of carbon dioxide, which can either be sequestered as a negative emission technology, or utilised as a feedstock to develop carbon-based products. One of those such products is synthetic fuels. These fuels, developed by the widely established Fischer-Tropsch process, are chemically identical to conventional fossil-based kerosene jet fuel however can be derived solely from renewable energy, air and water.

Direct air capture offers a highly scalable means of decarbonising the aviation industry through the production of carbon-neutral synthetic jet fuel. Significant challenges do remain in bringing DAC technology to broad-based adoption, largely surrounding cost and scale of deployment. However in light of all other solutions to decarbonise the aviation industry, direct air capture remains the most viable option to making the highways above us carbon-neutral, and to starting the journey to a carbon negative world.

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