Technical University of Denmark: DTU sets its sights firmly on sustainable aviation fuels

DTU initiates series of meetings with Copenhagen Airports, the Confederation of Danish Industry and SAS to boost the development of new technology for the manufacture of sustainable aviation fuels.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s vision of a scheduled domestic flight in Denmark using solely sustainable aviation fuels by 2025 requires enhanced research examining efficient technologies, airline demand, and passenger input. These messages emerged from the first meeting between researchers at DTU and key stakeholders in the Danish aviation sector. These meetings focus on establishing how researchers and producers can fulfil the ambition of seeing at least one domestic route in Denmark using 100 per cent green fuel by 2025.

At the first meeting, Thomas Woldbye, Group CEO of Copenhagen Airports, opened discussions by issuing a clear message that Copenhagen Airports is ready to head up efforts to make sustainable fuels available.

“Our main ambition is to meet demand. This means that we must ensure that airlines are able to refuel using sustainable aviation fuels at Copenhagen Airport. The calculations that we have carried out together with Danish Aviation’s Climate Partnership for Aviation show that we can advance Denmark’s aviation sector to make it one of the most ambitious of its kind on the green agenda for what is a relatively affordable cost per passenger. If green, sustainable fuels are available at a price that does not dissuade people from travelling, our studies show that passengers are generally willing to pay an additional price in the region of DKK 50 for their plane ticket,” said Thomas Woldbye.

Need for research
Copenhagen Airports is involved in a proposal to establish an aviation climate fund based on passenger levies on each flight ticket sold that would be expected to generate annual revenues for the foundation worth DKK 750 million. These funds would then be invested into research and development around sustainable aviation fuels. Additionally, Copenhagen Airports is one the stakeholders in the Green Fuels for Denmark partnership alongside others including energy company Ørsted, and Thomas Woldbye is open to the possibility of joining a future research centre partnership.

“We believe that funding should be allocated to basic research examining sustainable fuels because we recognize that we need to develop more efficient technologies. The big question is how to pick up speed in this respect. If the process is to progress as quickly as the government is proposing, with 100 per cent of Danish domestic flights using green fuels by 2030, then we will be unable to fund this work from a climate fund alone. In this respect, there will be a need for a state contribution. The DKK 1.2 billion in funding already allocated to the development of Power-to-X production is an important first step, but in the longer term we will also require investments into basic research so that we can bring the price of fuel down. This is absolutely crucial if we are to achieve our goal of an aviation sector that is free from emissions by 2050,” said Thomas Woldbye.

Testing and demonstration facilities
DTU President Anders Bjarklev agreed that it is necessary to allocate extra funds to the research and development of efficient plants for the production of sustainable aviation fuels. Specifically, DTU proposes one or more large, flexible, and integrated testing and demonstration facilities based at DTU where researchers will be able to develop and test a variety of fuels and learn from their experiences. Any such knowledge must and will be shared with industry. The facility must also be able to demonstrate the full process, including the integration of the full energy source (e.g. solar or wind power) in relation to the fuels produced. The facility must be flexible and usable for both thermal catalytic processes with heat-based and chemical reactions, as well as biological processes.

The biggest challenge is to drive down the price of green fuels so that it is competitive with fossil fuels. It is a prerequisite that work is done examining material and reactor developments, testing and demonstration projects, the development of range and demand, and in relation to the industrialization of production.

The technologies are already partly in place, but they are neither mature nor scalable, which is why sustainable aviation fuels remain uncompetitive in relation to fossil fuels. It will take a huge investment in research and development around Power-to-X technologies to bring prices down while increasing scale. At the same time, it is crucial that the cost of electricity generated by solar and wind power comes down, while the scale increases.

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