Europe’s first power-to-liquid demo plant in Norway plans renewable aviation fuel production in 2023

An industrial consortium is planning Europe’s first power-to-liquid (PtL) plant that will produce hydrogen-based renewable aviation fuel in Norway. The Norsk e-Fuel consortium is initially looking to build a demonstration plant at the Herøya Industry Park in Porsgrunn, near Oslo, capable of producing 10 million litres of fuel a year before scaling up the facility to commercially produce 100 million litres by 2026. The output of the full-scale plant would save an estimated 250,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually and fuel the five most frequently serviced domestic routes in Norway with a 50% blend. The renewable fuel would be generated from CO2 and water using 100 per cent renewable electricity. Planning of the €90 million ($100m) demo plant is said to be well underway, with other locations identified for a nationwide rollout.

The consortium has four main partners: German PtL technology provider Sunfire, Swiss-based CO2 air capture technology specialist Climeworks, Luxembourg-headquartered international engineering company Paul Worth SMS Group and Valinor, a Norwegian family-owned green investment company. “Together, we combine the necessary corporate strength with the most advanced and efficient technologies to convert Norway’s extensive resources of wind and hydro power into renewable fuels,” said Norsk e-Fuel Managing Director Karl Hauptmeier. Using a single-step co-electrolysis process, Sunfire and Climeworks technologies convert renewable electricity, water and CO2 captured from ambient air and unavoidable CO2 sources into syngas, which is then converted through the established Fischer-Tropsch process into renewable fuels. “Chemical reactions are reversible so if you can burn a fuel to generate CO2 then you can also take CO2 to generate a fuel,” explained Hauptmeier in a webinar. “Obviously, it’s not as easy as that – you require a few steps.

Firstly, we need to get the CO2 out of the air and this we can do using direct air capture technology that sequesters the CO2 to make it available to us. Then we use the CO2, combine it with water and bring it into one of our electrolysers, which allows us to split those molecules using renewable electricity to create the building blocks for the third step of the process, the synthesis.   “We take those building blocks, the syngas – the combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, we recombine them to create the renewable crude oil substitute. We will partner with a refinery to take the feedstock to generate the final fuels, which can be used in shipping and aviation. When used, the fuel burns and the CO2 is re-emitted but we can recapture it again and this closes the cycle. What we are doing in effect is imitating nature, it’s exactly what plants are doing, just industrialised and more efficiently.” Norsk e-Fuels is bringing together all the necessary competencies to make this possible, said Hauptmeier. “We are a project developer and a technology provider and our strategy includes the building and commissioning of a series of renewable fuel plants in Norway. It’s not just a simple demonstration plant – we’re building a whole new economic sector to produce renewable fuels for Norway and Europe.” The Herøya site has excellent resources and the capability for further scaling, he said. For a commercial-scale plant to produce 100 million litres of jet fuel annually would require a renewable electricity demand of roughly 200 megawatts. Although the drop-in fuel would be certified for use in blends up to 50%, Hauptmeier envisaged initially the company would start with a far lower blend.

A German estimate, he said, quotes a flight between Berlin and Beijing using a 10% PtL blend would increase the ticket cost by around 50 euros ($55). “I believe this is a price worth paying to help save our climate.” To fulfil a quarter of European aviation’s annual demand for jet fuel by 2040 from renewable sources would require round 20 billion litres, he estimates. “This market cannot be covered by sustainable biogenic solutions alone, so the potential for renewable fuels is enormous.” Pål Selboe Valseth, CEO of Valinor, said clean, renewable electricity was abundant in Norway and the consortium was looking at locations with large, underused energy capacities. Subject to financing, first groundwork on the Herøya site is due to start between the middle and end of 2021. Carl Berninghausen, CEO of Sunfire, said long-term financing would be structured from equity, standard bank loans and insurance-based bonds. Investment support would also be needed from the Norwegian government, he said. Total investment for the demo and full-scale plant would be in the region of NOK 5.5 billion (€500m), said Valseth, with around 60% coming from Norwegian sources. Offtake demand for the fuel from the first plant was already bigger than could be satisfied and the consortium would be entering into strategic partnerships with those wanting to buy the fuel, said Berninghausen. In March, sustainable aviation fuel provider Neste acquired a minority stake in Sunfire. Those willing to pay the premium for the first fuels to be produced would get a ‘first come’ advantage when subsequent supplies came online, he promised. “We certainly expect the demand for our renewable fuel to be higher than the available supply.” Being realistic, added Hauptmeier, prices for the PtL fuel from the demo plant will be higher initially than for biofuel alternatives. “But in the long run, having industrialised plants with cheaper electricity resources will enable us to push production prices down to between €1 and €1.50 per litre, depending mainly on electricity prices,” he said. “We will not only be cost-competitive with advanced biofuels coming from, for example, forest residues but we have the advantage of having unlimited supply. Biofuels are very much dependent on their feedstock availability and price. We have a solution that can be applied anywhere in the world where renewable electricity is or can be made available. However, we’re not saying we are competing with them as we will need both solutions.”

Christopher Surgenor

23 June 2020

Originally published by Green Air Online