On 22 January, the first commercial flight powered by synthetic fuel carried passengers from Amsterdam to Madrid. The Boeing 737-800 of KLM used regular fuel mixed with 500 litres of synthetic kerosene produced by Royal Dutch Shell. The synthetic kerosene used during the flight consisted of carbon dioxide and water and was produced in Shell’s research facility in Amsterdam, applying renewable energy from sun and wind from Dutch soil.
Although 500 litres is minimal compared to the total amount of fuel used during a flight, it is a first step. Presently, the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is still minimal. According to the International Energy Agency, biofuels account for less than 0.1% of the total amount of fuel used in 2018. Currently, biokerosene is relatively expensive and the production capacity is limited. Hence, there is little motivation for the airline industry to use it. Different companies that operate in biokerosene, such as SkyNRG and Neste, urge that governments should create incentives, such as the obligation to mix at least 5% - 7% of kerosene with biofuels.
Joris Melkert, professor of Aerospace Engineering of TU Delft, confirmed to Het Financieele Dagblad that a mixture quota is realistic. Nevertheless, all parties agree that mixing biofuels with kerosene isn’t the end goal. At a certain point in time, kerosene will have to be replaced by a synthetic version, as synthetic kerosene is produced by using carbon dioxide and hydrogen and is therefore not subject to a possible resource shortage.
In other words, this flight from Amsterdam to Madrid on 22 January will not mark the start of a quick transformation in the airline industry. However, it does show that the idea of a fully sustainable airline industry can be achieved.
For more information about the use of advanced material in the mobility sector, have a look at the Advanced Technology for Industry (ATI) Product Watch report on solid-state-lithium-ion batteries (SSB) for electric vehicles. For more information regarding advanced technologies in Europe, explore the ATI project website.