Is it possible to fly to New York without emitting CO2?

Arie Bleijenberg — April 28, 2022

T&E president Arie Bleijenberg looks into whether a passenger today can to fly to New York without emitting CO2. Is e-kerosene the answer?

Last year, a friend came to me with an interesting request. They wanted to fly to New York, without emitting CO2. This person wanted to use e-kerosene for her part of the fuel burned and was prepared to pay all the extra costs. I was asked where to purchase the e-kerosene and what the price would be. This started my surprising journey.

First the easy part. Roughly 400 litres of fuel is burned for one passenger on a roundtrip from Amsterdam to New York. From engineering studies, I learned that the costs of green synthetic kerosene would be around €3 per litre, compared to €0.50 for the fossil stuff. As a result, the green ticket costs one thousand euros more than the dirty one.

Then came the difficult part. Until now only one production plant for green kerosene is operational in Europe. This company offers it at a price of €20 euros per litre. They told me the high price is because they operate a small-scale experimental facility. They also informed me that all of their planned production is already close to sold.

A second production plant will start operating in 2024. The indicated price of €2.5 to €4 euro is in line with my expectations. However, their entire future production is already sold. The customers are not yet publicly known and will be announced before summer. Three other factories are on the drawing boards. Production is planned to start in 2025, 2026, and 2027.

The capacity of these five factories combined, would only supply a mere 1% of the fuel burned by European aviation. Therefore, the speed in planning and construction of plants for green synthetic kerosene, needs to increase manyfold. This is crucial because the use of e-kerosene is, besides not flying, the only way to drastically reduce the CO2 emissions from aviation. Building the required production capacity takes decades and must start right away. E-kerosene is produced from wind and solar power, combined with CO2 captured from the atmosphere and can be used in existing aircrafts. Therefore, zero-carbon aviation is feasible without waiting decades till the entire fleet is renewed.

During my journey I came across another hick-up. Only aviation companies can buy aviation fuel. This is not possible for travel agencies, let alone for passengers. The problem is that the air carriers prefer biokerosene over green kerosene because it is cheaper. They lobby to weaken European policies which will oblige them to start shifting to synthetic fuels. However, the volume of ecologically and socially acceptable bioenergy is insufficient to fuel aviation. Going for bio should not postpone the scaling up of e- kerosene.

Hydrogen is a feedstock for green kerosene, making subsidies for developing hydrogen technology look good. However, hydrogen can be made in polluting ways as well as green. And hydrogen can be used for other purposes than greening aviation.

Instead of subsidising hydrogen, it may be more sensible for governments to oblige oil companies to supply an increasing percentage of e-kerosene in their jet fuel. Aviation companies should also be made to blend their fuel with an increasing percentage of e-kerosene. These two government policies create a dynamic market. Another argument in favour of government regulation is that this makes air travellers pay for the greening of aviation, instead of taxpayers.

Governments can create a well-functioning market and every traveller should have the right to fly on green synthetic kerosene.

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