A “unique and powerful” joint venture (JV) has been formed with a goal of producing an annual 80,000 tonnes of synthetic aviation fuel from green hydrogen and captured carbon dioxide — enough to fill about 5,000 single-aisle Airbus A320 planes.

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German power-to-liquid (PtL) developer P2X-Europe and Portuguese paper giant The Navigator Company say that the new JV, P2X-Portugal, will develop “a world-class production facility for industrial-scale production of… carbon-neutral synthetic kerosene, based on green hydrogen and biogenic CO2”.

The project — which will utilise carbon dioxide captured from Navigator’s biorefineries, using wood from sustainable forests — will foster “the decarbonisation of the aviation industry”, P2X-Europe said in a statement.

Synethtic kerosene that is chemically identical to fossil-based jet fuel has long been cited as the easiest way to decarbonise the aviation sector, as existing planes can theoretically use it without large-scale modifications.

But it remains an expensive and energy-intensive method of producing such fuel, requiring about 770MWh of renewable electricity to produce 100MWh worth of energy in the airplane engine.

Existing planes can also fly on biofuel — or Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) — made from vegetation or agricultural waste, which is also expensive to produce.

While hydrogen- and battery-powered planes are currently being developed, neither power source is expected to pack enough punch for long-haul flights, leaving the industry relying on SAF or e-SAF (ie, made from electricity) for full decarbonization.

“The joint venture by the name of P2X-Portugal will bring together leading technology and engineering companies and integrates the whole process value chain from feedstock sourcing to market introduction and product distribution,” said P2X-Europe.

The planned plant, in the coastal city of Figueira da Foz, will combine up to 280,000 tonnes of biogenic CO2 with “several hundred megawatts of new renewable energy capacity”.

“The facility will be integrating several innovative technology components and will use a proven conversion process, leveraging recent process improvements and technologies to maximize its sustainability and system efficiency.

Commercial operation is scheduled to start in early 2026, with a final investment decision (FID) by mid-2023.

P2X-Europe estimates that the capital expenditure required for the first two development phases — comprising green hydrogen production, carbon capture and an annual production capacity of 40,000 tonnes — will amount to €550m-600m ($563m-614m).

The planned facility has already won the support of the Portuguese government, which has granted it the status of a project of national interest.

However, the companies state that there are still five hurdles to overcome before an FID can be — the most notable being “obtaining adequate EU and Portuguese government sponsored investment incentives”.

An FID would also require approval from EU anti-trust authorities; the availability of “competitive” renewable energy; an “appropriate” definition of green hydrogen from the EU; and “satisfactory long-term offtake commitments”.

The uncertainty is apparently not affecting the bullishness of the joint venture.

“PtX-Portugal is a determined agile frontrunner well on course to become an international reference for the market introduction and commercialisation of innovative synthetic aviation fuel products at scale,” said the PtX-Europe statement.

Airbus, Uniper, Siemens Energy and chemicals firm Sasol are jointly investigating the feasibility of a project to produce at least 10,000 tonnes of e-SAF per year from 2026.

Two weeks ago (13 July), the European Parliament’s industry committee voted to more than double the European Commission’s 2030 target for so-called “renewable fuels of non-biological origin” (RFNBOs) from 2.6% of fuel used in the transport sector by 2028 to 5.7% by 2030.

However, while this included a specific quota of 1.2% for the shipping industry by 2030, there was no specific goals for aviation. And these targets would still need approval from EU states before becoming law.

In May 2021, the German government and the aviation industry agreed on a roadmap for German air traffic to use at least 200,000 tonnes of e-SAF per year by 2030.