If you want to know what makes flight LH8406 so extraordinary, you don’t have to look into the cargo hold filled by DB Schenker or into the cockpit – but into the refueling system at the airport. For the first time in the history of commercial aviation, a cargo airplane took off on 29 November that completely covered its fuel requirements with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).
Geographically it was from Frankfurt to Shanghai, ecologically it was about something completely different: about sustainability and about proving that air freight can realise green transport with new fuels.
Regular launches with climate-friendly kerosene
The flight is the result of a cooperation between DB Schenker and Lufthansa Cargo. The first SAF cargo flight is expected to be followed soon by more. Together with Lufthansa Cargo, we will be offering regular flights with CO2-neutral fuel from April 2021.
The production of SAF uses plant residues, cooking oil and other materials from renewable sources. The carbon dioxide released during combustion in the engine was previously removed from the atmosphere by the plants. This synthetic Kerosene is therefore considered to be directly emission-free. Only in the upstream chain are there emissions that can be offset (carbon offsetting). Aviation also uses other sustainable fuels from alternative manufacturing processes. The best known is the Power-to-Liquid Process (PtL), which uses electrical energy to produce liquid fuels.
„Lufthansa Cargo is actively taking measures to protect the environment“, Peter Gerber, CEO Lufthansa Cargo AG
Of course, environmentally friendly kerosene only becomes really effective when as many shippers, logistics companies and airlines as possible use it. It would therefore be desirable for the phase-out of fossil fuels to be developed into a global joint project. In addition to the willingness to protect the climate, this requires sufficient production capacities for SAF as well as an adequate infrastructure at the airports to enable the refuelling of aircraft. Peter Gerber, CEO of Lufthansa Cargo, declared that the company is committed to research so that “sufficient quantities of alternative fuel will be available in the future”.
Sans Technical changes to the Aircraft
A Boeing 777F undertook the climate-friendly cargo flight. But it could have been another machine. Technical modifications to the aircraft are not necessary for the use of SAF. In practice, the amount of fuel required for the flight to Shanghai and back is fed into the refuelling system at Frankfurt Airport and mixed with the conventional kerosene. Each aircraft subsequently fueled from the tank farm will receive and consume a small proportion of the SAF. The resulting CO2 avoidance will be fully credited to Lufthansa Cargo and DB Schenker.
Passenger planes have been using SAF for a long time. A three-minute fact-check video by the Lufthansa Group provides information about the production and use of this fuel and about other alternatives to conventional kerosene. A short interview on this topic with Jochen Thewes, CEO DB Schenker, can be found here.