South Africa is set to develop its hydrogen economy further after researchers from the Catalysis Institute at the University of Cape Town (UCT) collaborated with Sasol to study the use of commercial iron catalyst in the conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) and green hydrogen to green chemicals and jet fuel.

Through its Secunda plant in Mpumalanga, South Africa, Sasol can use its existing Fischer Tropsch (FT) technology to convert low-grade coal and gas into synthetic fuels and chemicals, including the iron catalyst that may allow for the conversion of CO2 and green hydrogen to green jet fuels.

Alluding to the growth of global interest in CO2 hydrogenation - the conversion of green hydrogen with CO2 - Cathy Dwyer, Vice President, Science Research at Sasol Research & Technology, said, “CO2 hydrogenation is gaining significant interest worldwide and is a promising way to produce sustainable aviation fuels and chemicals which have a significantly lower carbon footprint.”

By using conversion techniques such as FT chemistry, Sasol is able to achieve CO2 conversions greater than 40%. Kerosene-range hydrocarbons (jet fuel) can be produced by converting CO2 and green hydrogen to synthesis gas via co-electrolysis or over a catalyst. The gas is then reacted over a suitable FT catalyst, resulting in the hydrocarbons.

Through the university’s experience working with CO2 conversion technology, a more direct method of converting CO2 to useful products can also be undertaken by using a single catalyst through ‘tandem’ catalysis.