It all comes down to chemistry. Fossil fuels have been so useful because they are fuels. The fossil part is simply the original power supply. The fossil’s original source was ultimately solar; plants using photosynthesis to grow, and maybe throw in some very ancient animals. Time, pressure, and heat does the rest. The product that has enabled our current civilization has been hydrocarbons, a chemical and molecular mixture of hydrogen, carbon, with other elements included. Some of the pollution we’ve unleashed and experienced has been from the impurities mixed in, as well as the ironic use of dirty fossil fuels to process more dirty fossil fuels. A team of researchers found a way to use solar power to draw chemicals and elements from the atmosphere, use solar energy to run a new kind of processing plant to generate cleaner hydrocarbons. Currently it is only a unit that fits on a rooftop. They propose that ultimately desert land could be used for industrial-sized facilities.
“Providing for all of commercial aviation’s fuel needs would require taking over half of one percent of the surface of the Sahara Desert.” – Ars Technica
While 0.5% may sound small, that’s also only for aviation. Still, an improvement and a reason for some optimism.