First passenger flight performed using clean fuels. Sort of.

February 25, 2021

On a freezing February morning, Europe’s aviation ‘bubble’ came together, virtually, to discuss the potential of sustainable advanced fuels (SAFs) for aircraft. The meeting of policymakers, industry executives and NGOs discussed the challenge of making clean fuels available at a competitive price. But one announcement grabbed the headlines. For the first time worldwide, a passenger flight was partly fueled by synthetic kerosene - a fuel that T&E says has the most potential to significantly reduce aviation’s climate impact.

The Boeing 737-800 flew from Amsterdam to Madrid on 500 liters of synthetic kerosene, produced by Shell and based on CO2, water and renewable energy all sourced from the Netherlands. Dutch infrastructure minister, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, described it as a “great step in the new chapter of aviation”. However, the kerosene, which fueled the aircraft for around 100km, was made using point source CO2 – a technique which collects the gas from fossil fuel industrial users and therefore was not fully zero carbon, as would have been the case if the CO2 was extracted from the atmosphere.

Matteo Mirolo, aviation policy officer at T&E, said: “KLM’s announcement is the first step in a long journey which we should have started decades ago. E-kerosene has huge potential to green the sector in the long-run. As it can be dropped into existing engines, it can be introduced as a blend with fossil jet fuel and therefore does not require a major overhaul of refueling infrastructure”.

High-profile politicians, such as Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans, German transport minister Andreas Scheuer and his French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari all expressed support for developing sustainably produced aviation fuels to reduce CO2 emissions.And in a joint statement, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg and Spain called on the European Commission to require fuel suppliers to blend e-kerosene into aviation fuel.

Mirolo added: “E-kerosene faces a long road to production and won’t arrive in significant amounts until after 2030. Until then, flying will remain the most carbon intensive mode of transport. We need to do more. The conference shows that EU member states are willing to throw their weight behind e-fuels. The European Commission should take heed of this energy and ensure its ReFuelEU initiative supports e-kerosene. Otherwise the KLM announcement will be yet another false dawn for greening aviation.” 

On the same day, T&E published its e-kerosene factsheet to clarify what the fuel is, and why it is so important for the future of aviation.

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