During a national aviation conference in Hamburg on Monday September 25, Carsten Spohr, the boss of Lufthansa, Europe’s leading carrier, estimated that the company “would need around half of Germany’s electricity to convert into synthetic fuel its entire current fleet”. Enough to undermine the myth of the green plane, on which the sector relies to achieve carbon neutrality.
Synthetic fuels, also called e-fuels, combine hydrogen and CO2 captured in the air or in industrial fumes. To be considered green, they must be produced from carbon-free sources such as renewable energies. These synthetic fuels are part of the family of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), alongside biofuels, the only ones used today, and green hydrogen still at the prototype stage.
“Buy this fuel abroad”
And this astronomical quantity of electricity, the federal networks agency and the federal Minister of Economy Robert Habeck (Greens) “will not give it to me”, recognizes, lucidly, Carsten Spohr, who does not give up. According to him, the “realistic” solution involves purchasing this synthetic fuel “abroad, where wind or solar energy is available in practically unlimited quantities”, he added, without naming a country. accurate. This path will be “long, but it’s the right one”, said Carsten Spohr convinced.
“The observation he draws is correct, the conclusion he draws is not,” comments engineer Maxence Cordiez on Linkedin. According to this energy specialist, “the priority is to decarbonize electricity for its current uses, before converting it into synthetic fuels”. He also underlines that most of the countries which position themselves on the production of hydrogen for export are “countries whose electricity mix has a very high carbon intensity and/or where the entire population does not have access to electricity and/or where there are constraints on access to water (necessary to produce hydrogen)”.
It actually seems quite unrealistic that these countries will manage to meet this triple requirement: decarbonize their electricity, offer access to electricity for all, and produce enough electricity to produce synthetic fuels intended for export. , in a relatively short time. “Finally, the conclusion – difficult to accept – that the CEO of Lufthansa should have drawn is that the decarbonization of air traffic will also and above all involve a strong reduction in use,” concludes Maxence Cordiez.
A SAF obligation in the EU
But this question of reducing traffic remains taboo. To achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the main lever envisaged is compensation, through the Corsia mechanism. This system, adopted in 2016, should allow the sector to compensate for the increase in its emissions in order to maintain them at their average level of 2019-2020, on a voluntary basis from 2024 then compulsory from 2027. However, the system was once again revised downwards during the ICAO meeting. So much so that according to Transport & Environment (T&E) calculations, only 22% of total international emissions would be offset by 2030.
The other lever is based on sustainable aviation fuels, the limits of which we can see (to which we must add soaring costs). The European Union will therefore require from 2025 to incorporate on average 2% SAF into the kerosene of flights in Europe and departing from Europe. In 2030, this percentage will increase to 6%, then gradually to 20% in 2035, 34% in 2040, 42% in 2045, to rise to 70% by 2050, the date on which air transport is committed to wait for carbon neutrality.
This article is originally published on novethic.fr