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A Swiss Boeing 777-300ER landing in Zurich. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Lufthansa Begins Collaboration to Develop Fuel From Sunlight

The Lufthansa Group has initiated a partnership with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) and the Institute’s spin-offs, Climeworks and Synhelion, to develop cost-effective carbon-neutral fuels which are entirely compatible with the current global fuel infrastructure, according to a press release.

The partnership, featuring Lufthansa Group subsidiaries Swiss International Air Lines and Edelweiss Air, covers a joint effort in technology and economic efficiency to create sustainable aviation fuels.

Last June, it was announced that scientists and engineers from ETH Zurich developed a novel technology capable of producing liquid hydrocarbon fuels exclusively from sunlight and air, which can also be used for jet fuel production.

This innovative technology encompasses three thermochemical processes that enable the extraction of carbon dioxide and water from the air, the solar-​thermochemical splitting of carbon dioxide and water and liquefaction into hydrocarbons.  The fuels produced with this technology release only as much carbon dioxide as previously extracted from the air for production.

“In contrast to other modes of transport, air transport will depend on sustainable liquid fuels in the foreseeable future. Their market launch requires a joint effort by fuel manufacturers and airlines,” Dr. Aldo Steinfeld, Professor for Renewable Energy Carriers at ETH Zurich, said.

“With the planned cooperation, we are once again underlining the importance of Sustainable Aviation Fuels [SAF] for the goal of achieving aviation with a balanced CO2 sheet. The Lufthansa Group has been working hard for years to make flying ever more sustainable. Thanks to the forward-looking technologies and the cooperation with innovative partners in already two of our home markets, we are on the right track,” Lufthansa Group Executive Board Member Christina Foerster said.

SAF and Aviation Sustainability

The aviation industry accounts for 2.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change and global dimming.

Therefore, the development of alternative sustainable aviation fuels is crucial for the future of the aviation industry and climate. The International Civil Aviation Organization adopted the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), an emission mitigation plan to achieve the global aspirational goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 onwards.

CORSIA scheme encourages the development of innovative technologies by aeronautical manufacturers to reduce aircraft consumption and the development of alternative sustainable fuels.

According to the European Aviation Safety Agency, the use of SAF is currently minimal and it is likely to remain limited in the short term. But, they have great potential to mitigate the impacts of the current and expected future environmental impacts of aviation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has again shown that the survival of the aviation industry relies on demand. Some airlines had to announce large layoffs and still some others have begun to file for bankruptcy. Because of the environmental impacts of air transport, some groups have called for the public to decrease its use of air travel and opt for alternative means of transport that emit less or no carbon.

In the long run, this individual awareness regarding the dangers of climate change and global warming poses a huge risk against the demand for air travel. And because of that, SAFs will play a significant role in the sustainability of aviation, and the Lufthansa Group’s initiative presents a significant step forward within this context.

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