German officials presented what they said is the world’s first commercial plant for making synthetic kerosene, which is promoted as a climate-friendly fuel of the future. Currently, the aviation industry is responsible for 2.5% of global CO2 emissions. According to experts, e-fuels can help solve the problem, by replacing fossil fuels without major technical modifications to the aircraft.
“The era of burning coal, oil and natural gas is drawing to a close,” Germany’s environment minister, Svenja Schulze, said “At the same time, no one should have to sacrifice the dream of flying. This is why we need alternatives to conventional, climate-harming kerosene.”
The facility in Werlte, will employ water and electricity from four nearby wind farms to produce hydrogen, which is then combined with CO2, from a nearby biogas facility and that is captured directly from the air, to make crude oil that can later be refined into jet fuel. Burning that synthetic kerosene releases the same amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as was previously removed to produce the fuel, making it “carbon neutral.” However, the plant’s capacity is still very limited at only about 336 gallons of jet fuel, enough to fill up one small passenger plane every three weeks. In 2019, the total fuel consumption of commercial airlines worldwide reached 95 billion gallons.
Atmosfair, the non-profit group behind the project, says its goal is to prove that the process is technologically feasible and that with sufficient demand it can be economically viable. At first the price of synthetic kerosene will be significantly higher than that of regular jet fuel, though Atmosfair won’t divulge how much it will be charging its first customer, Lufthansa.
European authorities are setting quotas for the amount of e-fuel airlines will have to use in future, therefore creating demand, and making it more attractive to invest in bigger and better plants.
Falko Ueckerdt, a researcher at Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research said €5 per litre is possible by 2030, when the European Union’s executive may require airlines to meet 0.7% of their kerosene needs with e-fuels. Under current plans, that would rise 28% by 2050.
Lufthansa has committed to purchase 25,000 litres of the e-kerosene per year over the next five years. Its Cargo operation and Kuehne + Nagel will be the beneficiaries. “Lufthansa’s airlines have been researching and using sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) for many years. We are currently the largest customer in Europe. Synthetic fuels from renewable energies are the kerosene of the future” Christina Foester, a member of Lufthansa’s executive board, said in a statement.
Ueckerdt warned that despite the efforts, e-fuels are no short-term solution to the need to rapidly cut global emissions if the Paris climate accord’s goal is to be met.