World’s First Flight Operated with Synthetic Kerosene

A KLM aircraft powered by synthetic fuel transported passengers from Amsterdam to Madrid last month, being the first flight in the world operated with synthetic kerosene, the Dutch government and the air operator announced.

In recent years oil prices have fallen, sometimes even dramatically for the profile industry, and with the increased penetration of electric or hybrid cars and alternative energy sources it was thought that the fall would be irreversible.

Except on February 8 oil prices surpassed the threshold of USD 60/bbl for the first time in more than 12 months, this in conditions in which inventories continue to plunge, and prospects on global demand are improving. Therefore, around noon, Brent oil was on the rise 1.2% compared to the benchmark on February 5, to USD 60.06/bbl, after it had reached an intraday maximum of USD 60.27/bbl, the highest price since January 2020.

During the Covid-19 pandemic and especially when the global economy worked at extremely low rates, fuel demand fell and, therefore oil inventories shrank, but as the market started to rebalance prices followed a slightly upward trend.

Global inventories fell by approximately 300 million barrels as of May 2020, when OPEC and cartel’s allies agreed to significantly reduce the common output, according to estimates of the International Energy Agency (IEA). In China, one of the main drivers for market recovery, oil inventories had fallen to the lowest level in the first year.

The number of oil tankers heading to the Asian market reached a maximum of the last 6 months last week, and purchases are in ‘significant growth’ according to Ben Van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell.

In this quite volatile context, a news report in the aviation field draws particular attention, as it is published a few days after the event. A KLM aircraft powered by synthetic fuel transported passengers from Amsterdam to Madrid last month, being the first flight in the world operated with synthetic kerosene.

The KLM aircraft used regular fuel mixed with 500 litres of synthetic kerosene produced by Royal Dutch Shell with carbon dioxide, water, and renewable energy sources, along with regular fuel to power the aircraft, according to a statement of the Dutch group.

Shell, producer of the sustainable kerosene and KLM, operating the flight, presented this showcase during the meeting initiated by Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Dutch Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management. European politicians, policymakers, representatives from the business community, the (aviation) industry and NGOs participated at the conference.

The Netherlands is one of the leading countries in Europe that aim to boost the development and application of sustainable aviation fuels to make aviation more sustainable. The Netherlands wants to stimulate the development and application of sustainable aviation fuels (biofuels and synthetic kerosene) so European airlines will be able to fly entirely on sustainable fuel by 2050. The Dutch government supports various initiatives to stimulate production and use and thereby make it commercially viable. The construction of the first European factory for sustainable biokerosene in Delfzijl, The Netherlands, for which SkyNRG is collaborating with KLM, Schiphol Airport and SHV Energy, is one example.


500 litres delivered, refuelled and used

As announced during the conference, the first commercial passenger flight from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to Madrid last month, was carried out on an admixture of 500 litres of sustainable synthetic kerosene. Shell produced the synthetic kerosene in its research centre in Amsterdam based on CO2, water and renewable energy from sun and wind from Dutch soil.

“I am proud that KLM is today operating the industry first flight using synthetic kerosene made from renewable sources. The transition from fossil fuel to sustainable alternatives is one of the largest challenges in aviation. Fleet renewal contributed significantly to the reduction of CO2 emissions, but the upscaling of production and the use of sustainable aviation fuel will make the biggest difference for the current generation of aircraft. That is why we teamed up with various partners some time ago, to stimulate the development of sustainable synthetic kerosene. This first flight on synthetic kerosene shows that it is possible in practice and that we can move forward,”Pieter Elbers, CEO KLM, said.

“Making aviation more sustainable is an international challenge that we face together. Today we are taking a great step in the new chapter of aviation. This promising innovation will be of great importance in the coming decades to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation. It is great that in the Netherlands we were the first to show that this is possible: a big compliment for all involved. I hope that, in these turbulent times for aviation, this will inspire people in the sector to continue on this course,” Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Watermanagement, added.

“Shell is an active player in the energy transition and our contribution to this world first is an example of this. I am extremely proud that we have succeeded in producing 500 litres of jet fuel for the first time based on CO2, water and renewable energy. It is an important first step and together with our partners we now need to scale up, accelerate and make it commercially viable,” Marjan van Loon, President and CEO Shell Netherlands, mentioned


New initiatives and start-ups

During the conference, the stage was set for various new initiatives and start-ups. For example, the start-up Synkero announced that it is collaborating with Port of Amsterdam, Schiphol, KLM and SkyNRG on the realization of a commercial synthetic sustainable kerosene factory in the Amsterdam port. The project seeks to link with sustainable initiatives in the North Sea Canal area, such as the establishment of a 100-megawatt hydrogen plant where up to 15,000 tons of green hydrogen can be produced with sustainable electricity.

Another initiative is the construction of a demonstration factory for sustainable kerosene using captured CO2 from the air as a raw material in Rotterdam. The Zenid initiative, in which Uniper, Rotterdam The Hague Airport, Climeworks, SkyNRG and Rotterdam The Hague Innovation Airport are participating, uses a combination of innovative technologies to focus on CO2-neutral aviation with sustainable synthetic kerosene.

Several European politicians, including Commissioner Timmermans, the German transport minister Scheuer, and his French colleague Djebbari, underlined the importance of developing sustainably produced aviation fuels to reduce CO2 emissions and give aviation a good future.

Various European member states have indicated during the conference that they want to work on this. In a joint statement, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, and Spain indicate that recovery from the current crisis due to the pandemic must go hand in hand with accelerating the sustainability of the aviation sector to achieve climate goals and call on the European Commission to come up with a European blending obligation. The Member States view the development of sustainable synthetic kerosene in addition to sustainable biokerosene as one of the most promising and effective ways to reduce aviation emissions in the coming decades.

Therefore, even in conditions in which oil prices have risen due to higher demand, the development and implementation of synthetic alternatives and biofuel are seen as essential to long-term efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in aviation, but not only.

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