Stereotypically known for technological expertise, precision, and being the first to reserve certain areas for themselves, Germany delivered a prime and very positive example of this on 04OCT21: atmosfair’s inauguration of the world’s first Power-to-Liquid (PTL) e-kerosene plant in Werlte, Northern Germany.
CO2-neutral jet fuel in the form of Power-to-Liquid e-kerosene, is produced using CO2 that is emitted from food waste residues within a biogas plant, or extracting CO2 directly from the air using
renewable energy from regional windfarms. Together with clean hydrogen (drawn from water and using green electricity), synthetic gas is produced, which is then transformed into so-called
“syncrude” – an alternative to fossil crude oil. This production process will commence in earnest early next year at the unique PTL e-kerosene plant, ceremoniously inaugurated on Monday 04OCT21.
Its syncrude will then be transported to the Heide refinery north of Hamburg, to be refined into finished Jet A1 fuel, combined with the refinery's total volume, and delivered to Hamburg Airport
for aircraft fueling. The PTL e-kerosene plant has the capacity to produce up to 350 tons of syncrude per year.
Core German expertise
The plant, which will be operated by solarbelt fairfuel, a non-profit sister company to atmosfair, was constructed by atmosfair in cooperation with Siemens, Ineratec, EWE, TÜV Süd, Raffinerie Heide, and Gallehr + Partner. In a video message at the inauguration, Andreas Scheuer, German Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, was particularly pleased to announce that over 90% of the engineering expertise in the project had come from Germany, and talked of a “PTL Roadmap”, that the government began establishing in APR21, which will eventually see funding for PTL production for the aviation and shipping industries on a much larger scale, to meet the country’s climate-neutrality targets. No doubt, a number of the audience were asking themselves where the funding had been in the run-up to the opening of this plant, which was so obviously not only a national, but a global first, and hence a considerable source of national pride.
Fridays for Future, awareness, and collaboration
Dietrich Brockhagen, Founder and CEO of atmosfair, had emphasized earlier on in the opening ceremony, that the plant had been built without any governmental grants, but through own financing brought about thanks to the many young people in Germany campaigning for climate change through Fridays for Future. They, he said, had thus achieved awareness and a greater willingness of the public to invest in sustainable projects. He also thanked and underlined a comment made to him by Annette Mann from Deutsche Lufthansa, with whom he had initially spoken at the start of the project: “When it comes to climate protection, we cannot draw a line between Lufthansa and atmosfair, between politics and customers: we are all in the same boat - we have to stick together.” Svenja Schulze, German Federal Minister for the Environment, too, stressed the importance of collaboration, thanking the project members for their perseverance, courage, and innovation. She announced that Germany, as the first European country to do so, had recently passed a legal obligation that will come into effect in 2026, which stipulates that a minimum of 0.5% of aviation fuel must be PTL-based. In other words, 50,000 tons of PTL per year – which is already far more than the current plant can annually produce. By 2030, the PTL minimum will rise to 2%, and by 2045, Germany aims to be climate neutral. With a view also to the European Green Deal Fit for ’55 plan, PTL production needs to be scaled up quickly through the construction of more and larger plants, and this initial opening is the first step in the right and realistic direction.
An historical moment
“One small step for man, one huge step for mankind!” were the words that the German meteorologist and oceanographer, and atmosfair patron, Professor Mojib Latif, borrowed to launch the official ribbon-cutting by him together with Minister for the Environment, Svenja Schulze, Dorothea von Boxberg, CEO of Lufthansa Cargo, and atmosfair Founder and CEO Dietrich Brockhagen. He then handed Ms von Boxberg a flacon of e-kerosene that had been produced in a prototype plant, as a symbol for the fact “that we are now entering a new world for the long-term; the world of sustainable aviation.” In her speech, Dorothea von Boxberg praised atmosfair’s pioneering spirit, and welcomed the fact that, in a world where most just talked about what could be done, the opening of the plant was finally a tangible action proving that initiatives to reduce carbon emissions in aviation can already be implemented today, not simply at some point in the undefined future. PTL is a solution that can be used in normal refineries and normal aircraft and, unlike alternative biofuels, is also scalable on large scale. All it takes, are airlines wishing to adopt the fuel, and customers willing to support the measure. Yet, she pointed out that PTL is comparatively far more expensive, and therefore urged the new coalition to support the climate-friendly change by ensuring that taxes and fees in aviation are used promote the availability of PTL.
Three international companies commit to promoting PTL
Lufthansa Cargo (Dorothea von Boxberg, representing the Lufthansa Group), Kuehne+Nagel (Marcel Fujike, Head of Products and Services, Air Logistics), and DHL/Deutsche Post (Volker Ratzmann, Executive VP Corporate Public Policy), were the three customer representatives in the panel discussion towards the end of the opening event. The core messages were that there is still a huge shortage of sustainable aviation fuel, and that those fuels that exist today, have until now been very limited in their scalability. “Kuehne+Nagel alone would require an annual total of 1.8 billion liters to be completely carbon neutral, so this [plant able to produce around 360,000 liters per annum] is just a drop of water on a hot stone,” Marcel Fujike calculated, but emphasized that PTL is required since bio-SAF can only cover around 5-7% of aviation needs. He criticized the German government’s speed of implementation of all the climate-neutrality measures announced over the course of the ceremonial inauguration speeches. “All those measures are right and important, but we need them today. We are a global company, and other countries are further ahead. In this year alone, we already purchased more than 12 million liters of SAF, but not one drop came from Germany.” California State, the UK, and Netherlands massively subsidize SAF, and the German government should do the same.
Politicians need to get active
Airlines, forwarders, and customers have for the most part set themselves green goals, and therefore customers are proactively approaching airlines for green solutions, instead of airlines having to “sell” the idea of sustainable fuels to them.
Volker Ratzmann also urged the government to put structures in place to ensure that climate-neutral aviation, which is possible with PTL and SAF, gets the attention and backing it requires to succeed. “Customers want and ask for climate-neutral solutions across supply chains. That is why this plant is so important. We can do things differently if we want! We [DHL/Deutsche Post] will invest 7 billion euro in green technologies, and want to reach not just 5% SAF by 2030, but 30% for our 280 planes.” For that, production has to be increased and that is down to the government to get active. “We believe that the Paris Treaty is achievable, and want to do our bit.”
The opening of the atmosfair’s Werlte plant is the first step in a chain that requires fast development. The NGO is already involved in a number of sustainability initiatives in the Global South, and with regard to PTL, is scouting for feasible locations to ensure green electricity and build other PTL plants. One such project is currently being evaluated: a PTL plant ten times the size of the German one, to be constructed in Brazil.
The full recording of the event (in German only) can be viewed here.
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