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Danish government green flights plan causes turbulence

Danish government green flights plan causes turbulence

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: SAS

The Danish government has promised that the first carbon neutral domestic flights will operate from 2025 and that all domestic flights will be carbon neutral from 2030. Industry giants will start large-scale production of green aviation fuel even sooner. All good but not enough, says environment think-tank.

In just a few years, air passengers will be able to fly without “flight shame” between domestic destinations like Copenhagen and Aalborg. By then, domestic flights will use so-called e-fuel which does not impact on the environment. This is a high profile political goal for the Danish government. 

“Danes will be able to make green domestic flights as early as 2025. And no later than 2030 all domestic flights should be green,” said the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (Social Democrats) in her latest televised New Year’s speech.

An ambitious goal

The promise to the Danish people came just weeks after the government had presented a proposal for the development of green fuel for aircraft, ships and trucks. It set aside 1.25 billion kroner (€168m) for the development of so-called power-to-X-fuel. Because a green fuel for large-scale use in aviation must first be developed and certified.

So there is not much time for the Prime Minister to make good on her New Year’s promise. Still, the Dansk Luftfart trade union, Copenhagen Airports (CPH) and major Danish industries immediately backed her ambition.

CPH and Luftfartens Klimapartnerskab (the aviation industry’s climate partnership) already had a plan for a green transition of the aviation industry but welcomed the government’s plan for green domestic flights by 2030. 

“This is a good, ambitious and realistic aim which the trade supports. But new goals also means we need new approaches and solutions for the transition of the aviation industry, and we look forward to cooperating on this,” said Copenhagen Airports CEO Thomas Woldbye.

SAS Frederiksen

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen meets the aviation industry and media at Kastrup. Photo:

He had just been meeting the Prime Minister and leaders from the government’s supporting parties – the Socialist People’s Party and the Red-Green Alliance – to discuss how the aviation industry can turn domestic flights 100% green by 2030. 

The industry leads the way

The goal might be reached even sooner. Danish industry and transport giants believe it is possible to develop and produce Danish green aviation fuel already by 2025, and that the country’s total aviation fuel needs could come from green alternatives as early as 2027 – three years before the government’s ambitious goal. 

This is what the Green Fuels for Denmark partnership – a group of Danish companies – announced in the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement. They already had plans for the production of green aviation fuel, and have now brought forward the startup for Danish production.

“This will be a technological challenge which we in Green Fuels Denmark are ready to take on so that we can secure Denmark’s green leadership in coming decades and push for a green breakthrough for the transition of the aviation industry globally,” said Mads Nipper from the energy company Ørsted.

Green Fuels for Denmark are made up of SAS, CPH, the shipping companies A.P. Møller-Mærsk and DFDS, transport giant DSV and Ørsted. The Danish state is the majority owner in Ørsted, which aims to become a world leader in offshore wind power and also among the first in the world to produce green fuel for planes and vessels based on electricity from offshore wind turbines, using power-to-X technology.


Green aviation fuel is nothing new. But so far, large-scale commercial production at a competitive price using technology that makes it suitable for plane engines has not been possible, explains Marc Normann, senior market director at the consultancy firm COWI, an advisor to Green Fuels for Denmark. 

“We need to find new ways of developing green aviation fuel, which is made up of hydrogen and carbon. To create green aviation fuel we must spend the coming years transforming solar and wind energy into hydrogen using electrolysis, and then add CO₂ made from biomass and use a chemical process to turn this into green aviation fuel. The method is known as power-to-X,” he says.

Elsewhere, work is also being done to develop electric planes with engines run on batteries. Hydrogen planes are also being developed, eliminating the need for aviation fuel altogether. 

Electric and hydrogen planes might be available for short-distance flights in the future, on domestic routes in Denmark for instance, but they will not be able to fly long-distance, believes Marc Normann.

“Electricity is preferable as an energy source and fuel in the transport sector too, because the production of green electricity has the lowest energy loss. But it will take far too long before battery technology is ready for aviation. This means we cannot have a green transport sector without also developing green fuel for planes and long-distance shipping, where electricity cannot be used.”

More expensive to fly

The green think-tank Concito has called the Danish government’s aim for green domestic flights “a good signal”, but says more is needed to reduce aviation emissions. It is necessary to develop electric planes and prioritise the electrification of all sectors, argues the think-tank, whose chair is the former Danish EU environment commissioner Connie Hedegaard. 

Concito also recommends introducing a passenger fee that reflects the actual climate impact from flying. This would reduce the demand for flights and emissions would fall while the money raised could be used for the necessary development of green aviation fuel. 

Researchers from the Technical University of Denmark DTU and representatives from Danish aviation agree that air passengers should be made to pay more and that it will be expensive to develop the technology.

They recently met to discuss how to make sure the first 100% green Danish domestic route can open no later than 2025, and concluded that massive Danish research into power-to-X technology, as well as increased solar and wind energy production, is going to be needed.


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