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German non-profit organization Atmosfair unveiled on Monday, Oct. 4, the world’s first commercial plant for producing synthetic kerosene, an environmentally friendly alternative fuel.

According to an ABC News report on the plant unveiling, the aviation industry currently accounts for approximately 2.5 percent of worldwide CO2 emissions, and it is struggling to keep up the pace with other industries that are turning to electrification.

Synthetic kerosene boosts emissions-cutting efforts

Synthetic kerosene is a type of e-fuel that can help to replace fossil fuels without requiring massive structural changes to existing aircraft. “The era of burning coal, oil and natural gas is drawing to a close,” Germany’s environment minister, Svenja Schulze, said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new plant. “At the same time, no one should have to sacrifice the dream of flying. This is why we need alternatives to conventional, climate-harming kerosene.”

The new facility, located in Werlte, Germany, uses water and electricity from four nearby wind farms to produce hydrogen. The hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide — some of it captured directly from the air — to make crude oil, which is then refined into jet fuel. Burning synthetic kerosene releases no more CO2 into the atmosphere than removed in the first place to produce that fuel, meaning it is carbon neutral.

Proving the feasibility of e-fuels

Companies such as supersonic aircraft firm Boom Supersonic have committed to running their upcoming fleet of aircraft on 100 percent sustainable alternative fuels, while the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced a commitment this week to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Atmosfair’s new facility was built to demonstrate the economic and technological feasibility of synthetic kerosene. Starting next year, it will produce only eight barrels a day, or 336 gallons of jet fuel, meaning it would take three weeks to fill one small passenger plane. However, the organization will sell the e-fuel to German airline Lufthansa and, all going to plan, it hopes to scale its production in the coming years. Though synthetic kerosene will be more expensive than traditional jet fuel, to begin with, Atmosfair believes it can bring the price down and that rising fossil fuel prices due to carbon taxes will increasingly make its e-fuel more competitive. In the near future, wind farms and carbon capture technology might combine to make air travel vastly more sustainable for the environment.

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