But it is commonly acknowledged that no single technology or pathway will be capable of meeting the colossal task of delivering the volume of SAF needed globally to replace conventional jet fuel. Synthetic kerosene is produced by combining captured carbon with green hydrogen made from water and renewable power. As the availability of the carbon feedstock is potentially abundant, synthetic kerosene made in this way is viewed as one of the more promising long-term options for production of SAF at the volumes required to help aviation progress towards net-zero emissions.

Made from water, captured carbon and renewable energy it has the potential to be a game changer in the future, as supply is theoretically unlimited and its carbon footprint would be extremely low. This technology is carbon agnostic but short-term carbon needs to come from accessible sources – e.g. captured carbon from industry and agriculture, in future decades direct capture from air is likely to play a major role.

Commercialising such revolutionary technologies is however challenging, but synthetic kerosene took a major step forward on 8 February 2021 when, in a world-first, a KLM Boeing 737 flew a scheduled passenger service from Amsterdam to Madrid fuelled with 500 litres of certified synthetic kerosene, from a non-fossil fuel source, mixed with regular Jet fuel.

The Netherlands is one of the countries leading the way in Europe in the development of SAF technologies and the stimulus to produce the synthetic kerosene came from Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, at the time head of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. Shell accepted the challenge, with scientists at the Shell Technology Center in Amsterdam producing the required 500 litres of synthetic kerosene in just three months.

Following the February 2021 flight, Shell is continuing the work to closely with partners to further develop synthetic kerosene, and is involved in projects in Germany, and the Netherlands to produce green hydrogen using renewable energy. 

The production of synthetic kerosene had its roots in another landmark collaboration from 2009 when a Qatar Airways Airbus A340-600 undertook the world’s first revenue passenger service with a synthetic fuel made from natural gas, using the same technology. The fuel for that flight was again developed by Shell Aviation and blended with conventional aviation fuel. The flight was the culmination of a two-year intensive study into synthetic fuel technology by a team comprising Qatar Airways, Qatar Petroleum, Shell, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Qatar Science & Technology Park and Woqod (Qatar Fuel Company).

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