The world’s first power-to-liquid plant producing carbon neutral renewable electricity-based synthetic aviation fuel, or e-kerosene, has opened in Emsland in northern Germany and is operated by climate protection organisation atmosfair. Lufthansa Group is a partner in the pioneering project, with Lufthansa Cargo and logistics company Kuehne+Nagel among the first customers, having committed to an annual minimum purchase of 25,000 litres for at least five years. The plant is currently in the commissioning phase and partly operative, with regular operations expected to start in the first quarter of 2022 when eight barrels of e-kerosene will be produced daily from water, renewable electricity from nearby wind turbines, waste CO2 from food waste processed at a biogas plant and from direct air capture. The synthetic crude will be transported to the Heide refinery near Hamburg for conversion into Jet A1 for use at Hamburg Airport. Atmosfair also has plans to offer e-kerosene to private customers through its website as an addition to its existing carbon offset programme and also through travel agencies.
The atmosfair plant was officially opened on October 4 by German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer contributing video messages. “Atmosfair shows the way in which we can improve our carbon footprint in air transport and your pioneering spirit and commitment demonstrate how this can be done,” said the Chancellor.
Climate scientist and atmosfair patron Prof Mojib Latif told over 100 guests at the inauguration: “This summer’s global extreme weather events and the new IPCC report make it abundantly clear that the global economy must steer away from fossil fuels urgently. This also applies to aviation. Atmosfair, together with German business, is taking on a pioneering role here, entirely without public funding. This shows we do not have to wait for the big oil companies when it comes to climate action in this field.”
Christina Foerster, a member of Deutsche Lufthansa’s Executive Board, said the Group’s airlines were the largest customers of sustainable aviation fuels in Europe. Until now, these fuels have been of biogenic origin, she said, but “synthetic fuels from renewable energies are the kerosene of the future and enable CO2-neutral aviation. In our partnership with atmosfair, we are taking a lead and providing a boost to the production of synthetic fuels.”
Added Lufthansa Cargo CEO Dorothea von Boxberg: “We clearly see the key to a sustainable reduction of our emissions in flight operations in the research and use of synthetic, sustainable aviation fuels. The fact that we are now pioneering power-to-liquid technology together with Kuehne+Nagel makes us particularly proud and shows we are actively tackling our climate protection challenges.”
Once the plant starts regular operations, Atmosfair plans, via its carbon offsetting site, to offer e-kerosene to its private customers as an option.
More than 5,500 QTA travel agencies across Germany are also planning to offer their customers atmosfair e-kerosene as a voluntary climate add-on to their booked journeys. “After the pandemic, the restart of tourism has to be green since the climate challenge remains central to the travel industry,” said Albin Loidl of QTA, Germany’s largest travel agency alliance, who added he would be lobbying within the Germany travel industry on the use of e-kerosene.
Atmosfair says it will sell the e-kerosene at cost, which it concedes is still very high at over €5 ($5.80) per litre, according to studies. The biggest impact comes from the high price of electricity in Germany but costs could be much lower in countries with access to solar power. “However, we wanted to take the first step here in Germany to try out the technology and gain experience,” explained atmosfair’s Dietrich Brockhagen.
The electricity for the plant comes from wind turbines in the surrounding area, partly within sight of the plant, which will be dropping out of the guaranteed German feed-in tariff scheme support in 2022 but atmosfair is providing additional financing to ensure the e-kerosene is not subsidised by residential power consumers.
The plant covers an area of around 1,000 square metres and a Siemens electrolyser produces green hydrogen from water. CO2, the second resource in the process, comes from waste CO2 from the biogas plant of local energy supplier EWE or captured directly from ambient air.
“Direct air capture is currently still new and expensive but for the Paris climate goals, we need this path in the long term and that is why we must start testing and developing it today,” said Brockhagen.
Added Stefano Innocenzi, EVP New Energy Business at Siemens Energy: “Our technology for the production of green hydrogen will be crucial for the decarbonisation of the transport sector. This new synthetic kerosene plant is an important step towards commercial large-scale plants, which we will build with our partners.”
Prof Latif foresees follow-up plants in developing countries. “The energy transition is a task of global cooperation. With this new technology, we have the chance to reshape energy partnerships between industrialised and developing countries on an equal footing. Then jobs will be created on both sides and enable technology transfer,” he said.
Atmosfair says the e-kerosene is carbon neutral because it only emits as much CO2 during combustion as was removed from the atmosphere for its production, whether directly or via the biogas plant. The neutrality is certified by TÜV.
The organisation has also developed a voluntary standard called Fairfuel for future producers of e-kerosene. It is intended, says atmosfair, to prevent synthetic kerosene from being produced using fossil sources such as from coking in steel production or from coal-fired power plants.
“How green really is the electricity and how sustainable is the CO2 that is used? These are crucial questions for the environmental integrity and climate benefits of e-kerosene,” said Dr Harry Lehmann of the German Environment Agency who coordinated the e-kerosene criteria with atmosfair.
“We have built a plant that shows climate integrity causes almost no additional costs,” added Brockhagen. “For the follow-up plants in developing countries, we will make sure the plants also benefit the population, for example by producing additional electricity at socially acceptable prices for the region.”
Top photo: Lufthansa Cargo CEO Dorothea von Boxberg at the plant’s inuguration ceremony
Below: Inauguration of the plant (in German)