28 November 2022

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

European collaboration projects plan a circular route to producing synthetic aviation fuels

A recent high-level conference hosted by the Dutch government focused on the potential of synthetic aviation fuels, also called power-to-liquid (PtL) or e-fuels, to significantly lower the aviation sector’s carbon footprint (see article). The Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, announced KLM had undertaken the first ever commercial flight to use synthetic kerosene in a jet fuel blend, which was produced by Shell. The conference also highlighted the launch by a Dutch/Swiss/German consortium of a project that aims to build a demonstration plant in Rotterdam which will produce fully circular sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) via direct air capture. The move comes after Royal Schiphol Group agreed to finance a study in 2019 into the feasibility of a demo plant able to produce SAF from air, water and renewable electricity. The study was led by German service provider EDL, with input from Climeworks, Sunfire, Ineratec, SkyNRG and Urban Crossovers. A new startup, Zenid, is now taking the next step with the support of these technology partners. Meanwhile in Germany and backed by the state of Hesse, Ineratec is planning a PtL pilot plant at an innovation hub for carbon-neutral alternative fuels next to Frankfurt Airport that is expected to produce up to 4.6 million litres of fuel a year starting in 2022, including an anticipated 1.25 million litres of synthetic jet fuel.

The Zenid demonstration plant will be powered by regionally sourced renewable energy and will combine several innovative technologies. A direct air capture plant will provide CO2 to a highly efficient co-electrolysis unit that turns the CO2 and added water into syngas, which is then transformed into liquid hydrocarbons by a modular Fischer-Tropsch reactor and then refined into sustainable aviation fuel (see below).

(Image: Zenid)

The consortium partners include Rotterdam The Hague Airport (part of the Royal Schiphol Group), Rotterdam The Hague Innovation Airport (RHIA), SAF global supplier SkyNRG and Swiss direct air capture company Climeworks. Based on the earlier feasibility study, the partners will carry out further investigations into the viability of the project. Zenid has also signed an MoU with Düsseldorf-headquartered global energy company Uniper to support the engineering and operation of the demonstration facility.

“Rotterdam The Hague Airport is very proud to be one of the kick-starters of this ground-breaking project, together with Schiphol Group and RHIA,” said Ron Louwerse, the airport’s Managing Director. “It fits exceptionally well within our strategy to facilitate and accelerate sustainability and innovation in aviation, to be at the cradle of sustainable aviation fuel made of CO2 from air.”

RHIA is a socio-economic cluster, providing an innovation ground for future aviation, with a focus on sustainable airplanes and airports, smart mobility, green energy, new business and next-generation education. Climeworks’ direct air capture technology runs exclusively on clean energy, with modular CO2 collectors that can be stacked to build machines of any size.

“The launch of Zenid shows the commitment of the industry towards fully circular fuels from air and their role to substantially reduce aviation’s CO2 emissions,” said co-CEO Christoph Gebald.

Plans for an innovation hub focusing on carbon-neutral alternative fuels and the construction of a pilot facility to produce synthetic fuels next to Frankfurt Airport were made in 2018. Since then, work has taken place on building the required legal framework and national network to support the emerging technology. The hub is being developed at the Industrial Park Höchst, which is operated by Infraserv Höchst and covers an area of 4.6 square kilometres west of the airport. It includes the Centre of Competence for Climate, Environment and Noise Protection in Aviation (CENA), which was established in January 2020 by the Hessian state government with a remit to secure the future of sustainable flying through innovations in aviation and promote Hessen as an aviation hub.

“We urgently need to reduce CO2 in transport, especially in aviation. To increase climate protection in transport, we need to encourage people to take short trips by train and make airplanes more fuel-efficient,” said Hessian Minister of Economics and Transport Tarek Al-Wazir at a recent presentation. “Moreover, we also need CO2-neutral fuels for intercontinental flights that start at Frankfurt am Main. That is why we are now investing in power-to-liquid technologies and infrastructure, especially for synthetic kerosene, here in the state of Hesse.

“CENA started its work at the beginning of 2020 and, furthermore, there are alternative fuel production companies in the region who want to realise their projects at the Industrial Park Höchst. We proactively support such developments not only with money from our regional budget but we are also actively bidding for money from the national budget.”

The German state has allocated extra funds from the state budget for alternative fuels and the production of green hydrogen as a starting point for the production of PtL fuels, and a roadmap has been put together by industry and state and regional governments.

“In order to enable the sustainable aviation fuels breakthrough, we actively support technological advances, construction of the interconnected infrastructure and the enabling of a functioning market framework for such fuels,” said Bernhard Dietrich, Head of CENA.

Two technology companies, Ineratec and Caphenia, have plans for PtL production facilities at Frankfurt Höchst. Ineratec, which was founded at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in 2014, develops, builds and operates modular units to produce synthetic fuels and waxes through the Fischer-Tropsch process. It has ambitions to build the world’s largest PtL production plant at Höchst. Caphenia has developed a power-and-biogas-to-liquid process for renewable fuels and basic chemicals using biomethane, CO2, water and renewable electricity. The company is planning a first pilot unit at Höchst.

“With the Ineratec power-to-liquid pioneer plant, CO2-neutral synthetic fuels will be widely available for the first time,” said Philipp Engelkamp, Managing Director of Ineratec. “Due to the modular concept, production capacities will be expanded worldwide.”

Synthetic fuels production process planned at Industrial Park Höchst:

Top image: Zenid (© Blueroom)