Germany opens the first carbon-neutral jet plant in the world

 Tuesday, October 5, 2021 

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Atmosfair, a nonprofit organization has opened the world’s first plant to produce carbon-neutral jet fuel in its site in Emsland, in northern Germany. This site is expected to begin producing eight barrels (about 1 ton) of synthetic kerosene a day in early 2022. The announcement came on the day the International Air Transport Association (IATA) revealed a commitment to reach “net zero” CO2 emissions by 2050.

The company, which offers offsets for emissions from flights, did not disclose how much the project cost or how it was funded.

Synthetic kerosene, also called e-kerosene or power-to-liquid (PtL), is seen as having huge potential to slash the aviation industry’s carbon footprint. However, there are several reasons the green fuel has not taken off yet. Flying is one of the most carbon-intensive ways to travel because planes are powered by fossil-based kerosene. The aviation sector is responsible for around 2 to 3% of global CO2 emissions, and it wants to reduce its footprint to half of 2005 levels by 2050.

E-kerosene is a type of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) that can be blended with conventional jet fuel to bring down flight emissions.  SAFs are primarily biofuels made from sustainable feedstocks, such as waste products or agriculture residues. They are seen as a promising alternative because they can reduce emissions by up to 80% over the lifetime of the fuel compared to fossil kerosene.

The Atmosfair plant in Emsland, Germany is aiming to produce carbon-neutral synthetic kerosene by combining hydrogen generated by renewable electricity (from nearby wind turbines) and sustainable carbon dioxide captured from the air and biomass. The output is to be mixed with conventional kerosene and transported to Hamburg Airport to fuel flights, including those of German carrier Lufthansa.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), current engines can technically run on up to 50% sustainable fuel however the figure remains impossible to achieve right now. SAF production is currently about 0.1% of the total aviation fuel consumed globally.

Some governments have introduced quotas in an effort to drive those numbers up. Germany, for example, wants 0.5% of the 10 million tons used by the German aviation industry each year to be e-kerosene by 2026, with that rising to 2% or 200,000 tons by 2030. However, meeting those targets is going to require a massive ramp-up of production and as German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze pointed out at the inauguration of the e-kerosene production site that this only makes sense if renewables are ramped up at the same time. 

He mentioned that PtL fuels only serve climate protection if green hydrogen is used but much more electricity from renewable energies is needed for green hydrogen. The Atmosfair plant in Emsland is only small, and is not designed to run in the long-term, according to the organization’s CEO and founder Dietrich Brockhagen. However, he mentioned that the company wanted to take the first step to try out the technology and gain experience.

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