Synthetic Kerosene: A Take-Off to CO2-neutral aviation?
By Lowik Pieters.
The course Sustainable Innovation and Social Change (SUISCY) gave us the opportunity to investigate the innovative way of making synthetic kerosene from renewable sources in North Holland. Our case study showed the possibilities and limitations of the implementation phase of this sustainable innovation.
Let’s first take a look at how synthetic kerosene is produced. Kerosene is made from hydrocarbons. Synthetic Kerosene is an artificial kerosene from carbon and hydrogen atoms. To make it carbon neutral, CO2 captured from the atmosphere or industrial plants can be a source of carbon atoms (CO2 is split into CO – and O2). The hydrogen comes from water through electrolysis when there is a surplus of wind/solar electricity production. The picture below shows how Synthetic Fuel can be produced.
In 2018, a report called “Carbon Neutral Aviation” was published for synthetic kerosene in The Netherlands. In that scenario, production should be based on carbon sourcing from Tata Steel (yes, the graphite rain company), hydrogen sourcing via water from ‘t IJ / the North Sea, Energy from an offshore windpark near the coast of IJmuiden and transport and storage through the Port of Amsterdam towards Schiphol Airport, the proposed consumer.
To see if this could be an option for The Netherlands, and in particular Schiphol Airport we took four perspectives on the case: starting with 1) the Innovation System Perspective, through which potential actors were identified and the technologies were analyzed in further detail. This analysis was followed by 2) the Niche-Transition Perspective (adapted from Loorbach et al., 2017) that allowed us to make a comparison between the niche of Synthetic Kerosene and current regimes of airplane fueling. Thereafter, we included a 3) Sustainable Business Model Perspective for checking if the value proposition could lead to a viable business case. Lastly, a 4) Visioning and Backcasting (i.e. the opposite of forecasting) Perspective paved transition pathways and scenarios that could be useful to predict future developments.
We concluded that synthetic kerosene developments in The Netherlands are depending on different technolgical aspects and various actors. This can be called a complex sociotechnical system, which can threaten a successful implementation. According to our analysis, traditional oil companies could play a key role, but they need to be willing to change the current regime and infrastructure. However, we see many advantages, since the Fischer-Tropsch process is a well established technique, since synthetic kerosene will – unlike biofuels – not compete with agriculture, and since resources and energy are expected to be widely available in the near future.
This project was carried out by: Martijn van Bodegraven, Nico van Eeden, Joel de Saint-Ours and Lowik Pieters.
The full report can be seen on request.