From The DLR German Aerospace Center [Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V.](DE): “PtL tech­nol­o­gy plat­form – DLR re­search ad­dress­es the in­dus­tri­al pro­duc­tion of elec­tric­i­ty-based fu­els”

From The DLR German Aerospace Center [Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V.](DE)


Visualization of the PtL Technology Platform. Credit: DLR.

Electricity-based fuels – also referred to as e-fuels or power-to-liquid fuels – will be able to make an important contribution to transitioning the energy, mobility and industrial sectors towards becoming climate and environmentally compatible.
In order to research and develop technologies for the production of electricity-based fuels on an industrial scale, DLR is planning to set up the PtL Technology Platform (TPP).
DLR will initially receive 12.7 million euros from the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport to launch the planning project.
Focus: Aeronautics, energy, climate-compatible flight, electricity-based fuels, SAF, fuels
With the Technology Platform PtL (TPP), the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is taking a decisive step toward advancing technologies for the production of electricity-based fuels – also known as Power-to-Liquid fuels (PtL) or e-fuels – on an industrial scale. The aim of the project is to close the gap between development and industrial market ramp-up and support the market launch of these fuels. Electricity-based fuels, in addition to alternative propulsion systems and other possible improvements, are necessary to achieve ambitious climate protection targets, particularly in the mobility sector.

On 14 March 2023, the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (Bundesministerium für Digitales und Verkehr; BMDV) announced that DLR was the successful candidate for the development of such a platform. For the planning phase of the PtL technology platform, DLR will receive approximately 12.7 million euros from the BMDV. Further funding for DLR for the subsequent implementation phase will be decided upon at the end of 2023.

“Electricity-based fuels are our best option for quickly and significantly reducing the climate and environmental impact of long-haul flights. We know how to achieve this and now we are getting started by bringing the necessary technologies from the laboratory into industrial application. The PtL Technology Platform is a crucial milestone for upscaling. It will contribute to securing the future of the industrial and mobility sectors in Germany and Europe,” said Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board.

Oliver Luksic, Parliamentary State Secretary at the BMDV, explained: “In order to advance e-fuels on the path towards market ramp-up, we need the concentrated expertise from theory and practice, from science and industry. To this end, we are relying on a demonstration platform on a semi-industrial scale. Here, participants along the entire supply chain can work hand in hand to scale up and optimize e-fuel technologies. I am pleased that we have been able to gain a networked and experienced research partner in DLR, which will set up the demonstration platform as a large-scale research facility and make it available to third parties.”

Largest research facility for the production of electricity-based fuels

The TPP will close the gap between research and industrial production. It will consist of two plant sections that complement one another. In the research section of the plant, DLR will test novel technologies and processes with other stakeholders from academia and industry. The researchers will conduct detailed scientific analyses and optimise individual components. The focus of the demonstration section will be on the operation of a semi-industrial plant for the production of electricity-based fuels with a capacity of up to 10,000 tonnes per year. This would make the TPP the world’s largest research facility in the field of electricity-based fuels. A modular design is planned for the demonstration section. This will allow different production methods and the technologies and the components they require to be investigated and compared in terms of their practicality. This is a particularly important step – not everything that works on a small scale in the laboratory can simply be scaled up for industrial production.

Focus on the entire process chain

The TPP’s range of topics extends from renewable energy as a source of electricity-based fuels, through to the certification and demonstration of the use of these fuels. The project relies on DLR’s comprehensive expertise along the entire process chain and its many years of experience in the areas of fuel design – the development of fuels with maximum performance and minimum climate and environmental impact – techno-economic analysis, the development of production methods, the integration of electricity-based fuels into the overall energy system, and the acquisition of application and emission measurements using specialized DLR research aircraft.

Fuel design – targeted fuel development also reduces effects not related to carbon dioxide

Electricity-based fuels have the potential not only to greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but also to significantly reduce non-carbon-dioxide effects. These include emissions of nitrogen oxides, soot particles and water vapour. In air transport, the non-carbon-dioxide effects are currently approximately twice as significant as the climate impact of the released carbon dioxide. Soot particles and water vapour, for example, can lead to the production of contrails in the atmosphere, which have an additional warming effect. “Electricity-based fuels offer another advantage in this context – fuel design. We can optimize the chemical composition of these fuels to ensure that their combustion process no longer produces soot or particulate matter, for example. This also improves the local air quality,” says the head of the TPP project, Manfred Aigner, from the DLR Institute of Combustion Technology in Stuttgart.
What are electricity-based fuels?

Electricity-based fuels – also referred to as e-fuels or Power-to-Liquid (PtL) fuels – are liquids. To produce them, carbon is used, for example from the air, and hydrogen, which is obtained by means of electrolysis. If the electricity used is produced using renewable resources such as wind or solar energy, the fuels produced in this way are climate neutral. This means that they only release as much carbon dioxide during the combustion process as was previously captured during their manufacture.

In the long term, many mobility sectors will be dependent on large quantities of liquid energy sources. These include air transport and shipping in particular, but also vehicles that cannot be easily electrified because they are very heavy or have to cover long distances.

Another advantage of electricity-based fuels is that they can be transported, distributed, stored and used largely with existing infrastructure and vehicles or aircraft.
About the project

DLR was chosen by the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (Bundesministerium für Digitales und Verkehr; BMDV) to implement the Technology Platform PtL (TPP) through a competitive selection process. For the planning phase of the TTP, the BMDV is funding DLR with a total of 12.68 million euros. Approval of the main phase of the TPP project is planned for the end of 2023. The new technology platform for PtL fuels will be coordinated by NOW GmbH and implemented by the project management organisation VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH.

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DLR Center

The DLR German Aerospace Center [Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V.](DE) is the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transport and security is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to its own research, as Germany’s space agency, DLR has been given responsibility by the federal government for the planning and implementation of the German space programme. DLR is also the umbrella organization for the nation’s largest project management agency.

DLR has approximately 10.000 employees at 30 locations in Germany. Institutes and facilities are spread over at 16 locations in Germany: Cologne (headquarters), Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, Goettingen, Hamburg, Juelich, Lampoldshausen, Neustrelitz, Oberpfaffenhofen, Stade, Stuttgart, Trauen, and Weilheim. DLR also has offices in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington D.C.

DLR has a budget of €1 billion to cover its own research, development and operations. Approximately 49% of this sum comes from competitively allocated third-party funds (German: Drittmittel). In addition to this, DLR administers around €860 million in German funds for The European Space Agency [La Agencia Espacial Europea] [Agence spatiale européenne][Europäische Weltraumorganization](EU). In its capacity as project management agency, it manages €1.279 billion in research on behalf of German federal ministries. DLR is a full member of the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems and a member of The Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres.

In the context of DLR’s initiatives to promote young research talent, ten DLR School Labs were set up at The Technical University of Darmstadt [Technische Universität Darmstadt] (DE), The Hamburg University of Technology [Technische Universität Hamburg](DE), RWTH AACHEN UNIVERSITY [Rheinisch-Westfaelische Technische Hochschule(DE), The Technical University Dresden [Technische Universität Dresden](DE) and in Berlin-Adlershof, Braunschweig, Bremen, Cologne-Porz, Dortmund, Göttingen, Lampoldshausen/Stuttgart, Neustrelitz, and Oberpfaffenhofen over the past years. In the DLR School Labs, pupils can become acquainted with the practical aspects of natural and engineering sciences by conducting interesting experiments.

DLR’s mission comprises the exploration of the Earth and the solar system, as well as research aimed at protecting the environment and developing environmentally compatible technologies, and at promoting mobility, communication and security. DLR’s research portfolio, which covers the four focus areas Aeronautics, Space, Transportation and Energy, ranges from basic research to innovative applications. DLR operates large-scale research centres, both for the benefit of its own projects and as a service for its clients and partners from the worlds of business and science.

The objective of DLR’s aeronautics research is to strengthen the competitive advantage of the national and European aeronautical industry and aviation sector, and to meet political and social demands – for instance with regard to climate-friendly aviation. German space research activities range from experiments under conditions of weightlessness to the exploration of other planets and environmental monitoring from space. In addition to these activities, DLR performs tasks of public authority pertaining to the planning and implementation of the German space programme, in its capacity as the official space agency of the Federal Republic of Germany. DLR’s Project Management Agency (German: Projektträger im DLR) has also been entrusted with tasks of public authority pertaining to the administration of subsidies. In the field of energy research, DLR is working on highly efficient, low-CO2 power generation technologies based on gas turbines and fuel cells, on solar thermal power generation, and on the efficient use of heat, including cogeneration based on fossil and renewable energy sources. The topics covered by DLR’s transportation research are maintaining mobility, protecting the environment and saving resources, and improving transportation safety.

In addition to the already existing projects Mars Express, global navigation satellite system Galileo, and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, the Institute of Space Systems (German: Institut für Raumfahrtsysteme) was founded in Bremen on 26 January 2007. In the future, 80 scientists and engineers will be doing research into topics such as space mission concepts, satellite development and propulsion technology.

Planetary research

Mars Express

The High Resolution Stereo Camera HRSC is the most important German contribution to the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission. It is the first digital stereo camera that also generates multispectral data and that has a very high resolution lens. The camera records images of the Martian surface which formed the basis for a large number of scientific studies. With the HRSC, which was developed at the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Planetary Research (German: Institut für Planetenforschung), it is possible to analyze details no larger than 10 to 30 meters in three dimensions.

Rosetta and Philae

The comet orbiter Rosetta is controlled from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC), in Darmstadt, Germany. The DLR has provided the structure, thermal subsystem, flywheel, the Active Descent System (procured by DLR but made in Switzerland), ROLIS, downward-looking camera, SESAME, acoustic sounding and seismic instrument for Philae, the orbiter’s landing unit. It has also managed the project and did the level product assurance. The University of Münster built MUPUS (it was designed and built in Space Research Centre of Polish Academy of Sciences) and the Braunschweig University of Technology the ROMAP instrument. The MPG Institute for Solar System Research [MPG Institut für Sonnensystemforschung](DE) made the payload engineering, eject mechanism, landing gear, anchoring harpoon, central computer, COSAC, APXS and other subsystems.


The framing cameras, provided by the MPG Institute for Solar System Research and the DLR, are the main imaging instruments of Dawn, a multi-destination space probe to the protoplanets 4 Vesta and 1 Ceres launched in 2007. The cameras offer resolutions of 17 m/pixel for Vesta and 66 m/pixel for Ceres. Because the framing cameras are vital for both science and navigation, the payload has two identical and physically separate cameras (FC1 & FC2) for redundancy, each with its own optics, electronics, and structure.

Human spaceflight


DLR operates the Columbus Control Centre in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. It is responsible for the coordination of scientific activities as well as for systems operations and life support on board the orbiting Columbus laboratory.

In February 2008, the Columbus laboratory, Europe’s core contribution to the International Space Station ISS, was brought into space by the Space Shuttle and docked to the ISS. The cylindrical module, which has a diameter of 4.5 metres (14 ft 9 in), contains state-of-the-art scientific equipment. It is planned to enable researchers on Earth to conduct thousands of experiments in biology, materials science, fluid physics and many other fields under conditions of weightlessness in space.

Spacelab, Shuttle, Mir, Soyuz

Germany has near ten astronauts and participates in ESA human space programs including flights of German astronauts aboard US Space Shuttles and Russian spacecraft. Besides missions under ESA and flights on Soyuz and Mir, two Space Shuttle missions with the European built Spacelab were fully funded and organizationally and scientifically controlled by Germany (like a separate few by ESA and one by Japan) with German astronauts on board as hosts and not guests. The first West German mission Deutschland 1 (Spacelab-D1, DLR-1, NASA designation STS-61-A) took place in 1985.

The second similar mission, Deutschland 2 (Spacelab-D2, DLR-2, NASA designation STS-55), was first planned for 1988, but then due to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster was delayed until 1993 when it became the first German human space mission after German reunification.

Earth-bound research and aeronautics

Remote sensing of the Earth

In remote sensing of the Earth, satellites provide comprehensive and continually updated information on “System Earth”. This remote sensing data is used to investigate the Earth’s atmosphere, land and ocean surfaces, and ice sheets. Practical applications of this technology include environmental monitoring and disaster relief.

Following the Indian Ocean tsunami of 26 December 2004, for instance, up-to-date maps could be compiled very quickly using Earth observation satellites. These maps could then be used for orientation during relief missions. DLR conducts these research activities at the German Remote Sensing Data Center (DFD) (German: Deutsches Fernerkundungsdatenzentrum), a DLR institute based in Oberpfaffenhofen. Nowadays, satellite data is also important for climate research: it is used to measure temperatures, CO2 levels, particulate matter levels, rainforest deforestation and the radiation conditions of the Earth’s surface (land, oceans, polar ice).


The German Earth observation satellite TerraSAR-X was launched in June 2007. The objective of this five-year mission was to provide radar remote sensing data to scientific and commercial users. The satellite’s design is based on the technology and expertise developed in the X-SAR and SRTM SAR missions (Synthetic Aperture Radar). The sensor has a number of different modes of operation, with a maximum resolution of one meter, and is capable of generating elevation profiles.

TerraSAR-X is the first satellite that was jointly paid for by government and industry. DLR contributed about 80 percent of the total expenses, with the remainder being covered by EADS Astrium. The satellite’s core component is a radar sensor operating in the X band and capable of recording the Earth’s surface using a range of different modes of operation, capturing an area of 10 to 100 kilometers in size with a resolution of 1 to 16 meters.

Astronomical surveys

The Uppsala–DLR Trojan Survey (UDTS) was a search for asteroids near Jupiter in the 1990s, in collaboration with the Swedish Uppsala Astronomical Observatory. When it concluded there was another survey, the Uppsala–DLR Asteroid Survey, this time with a focus on Near Earth asteroids and both surveys discovered numerous objects.

Reusable launch systems

Suborbital Spaceplane

Studying a suborbital spaceplane, DLR conducted Falke prototype for Hermes spaceplane program, participates in non-realized Sanger II project and since 2005 work under the concept making fast intercontinental passenger transport possible. The SpaceLiner is a reusable vehicle lifting-off vertically and landing like a glider.


DLR is a partner for RETALT (RETro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies), a program aiming to develop two-stage-to-orbit and single-stage to orbit reusable launch systems.

Aircraft design

DLR is involved in different European H2020 projects (AGILE, AGILE4.0) concerning aircraft design with the objective to improve multidisciplinary optimization using distributed analysis frameworks.

Research aircraft

DLR operates Europe’s largest fleet of research aircraft. The aircraft are used both as research objects and as research tools. DLR’s research aircraft provide platforms for all kinds of research missions. Scientists and engineers can use them for practical, application-oriented purposes: Earth observation, atmospheric research or testing new aircraft components. DLR is for instance investigating wing flutter and possible ways of eliminating it, which would also help to reduce aircraft noise. So-called “flying simulators” can be used to simulate the flight performance of aircraft that have not been built yet. This method was for instance used to test the Airbus A380 in the early stages of its development. The VFW 614 ATTAS was used to test several systems.

The high-altitude research aircraft HALO (High Altitude and Long Range Research Aircraft) will be used for atmospheric research and Earth observation from 2009. With a cruising altitude of more than 15 kilometers and a range of over 8,000 kilometers, HALO will provide for the first time the capability to gather data on a continental scale, at all latitudes, from the tropics to the poles, and at altitudes as high as the lower stratosphere.

The Airbus A320-232 D-ATRA, the latest and largest addition to the fleet, has been in use by the German Aerospace Center since late 2008. ATRA (Advanced Technology Research Aircraft) is a modern and flexible flight test platform which sets a new benchmark for flying test beds in European aerospace research – and not just because of its size.

DLR and NASA jointly operated the flying infrared telescope SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy). A Boeing 747SP with a modified fuselage enabling it to carry a reflecting telescope developed in Germany was used as an airborne research platform. The aircraft was operated by the Dryden Flight Research Center at Site 9 (USAF Plant 42) in Palmdale, California. Observation flights were flown 3 or 4 nights a week, for up to eight hours at a time and at an altitude of 12 to 14 kilometers. SOFIA was designed to remain operational for a period of 20 years. It is the successor to the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO), which was deployed from 1974 to 1995.

On 31 January 2020, the DLR put its newest aircraft into service, a Falcon 2000LX ISTAR (In-flight Systems & Technology Airborne Research).

Emissions research

DLR conducts research into CO2 and noise emissions caused by air transport. In order to ensure that increasing traffic volumes do not lead to an increase in the noise pollution caused by air transport, DLR is investigating options for noise reduction. The “Low-noise Approach and Departure Procedures” research project (German: Lärmoptimierte An- und Abflugverfahren), for instance, forms part of the national research project “Quiet Traffic” (German: Leiser Verkehr). The objective of this project is to find flight procedures that can reduce the amount of noise generated during takeoff and landing. One approach is to analyse noise propagation at ground level during takeoff using a large number of microphones. Researchers are also trying to reduce the noise at source, focusing for instance on airframe and engine noise. They hope to minimize noise generated in the engines using so-called “antinoise”.

The German Aerospace Center’s research work on CO2 emissions caused by air transport focuses for instance on model calculations concerning the effects of converting the global aircraft fleet to hydrogen propulsion. The growth rates of aviation are above average. This raises the question if CO2 emission-free hydrogen propulsion could perhaps limit the effects of growing air traffic volumes on the environment and the climate.

Hydrogen as an energy carrier

The Hydrosol and Hydrosol-2 is one of the energy research projects in which DLR scientists are engaged. For the first time, scientists have achieved thermal water splitting using solar energy, generating hydrogen and oxygen without CO2 emissions. For this achievement, the DLR team and several other research groups received the Descartes Prize, a research award created by the European Commission. The FP6 Hydrosol II pilot reactor (around 100 kW) for solar thermochemical hydrogen production at the Plataforma Solar de Almería in Spain started in November 2005 and is in operation since 2008.

Traffic Congestion

During the 2006 FIFA World Cup football championship, DLR implemented the Soccer project aimed at preventing traffic congestion. In this transportation research project, traffic data was obtained from the air in Berlin, Stuttgart and Cologne and used as input for traffic forecasting. A sensor system combining a conventional and a thermographic camera was used to obtain the data. A zeppelin, an aeroplane and a helicopter served as flying research platforms. An image analysis software package generated aerial photos showing the current traffic parameters as well as traffic forecasts. In this way, traffic control centres could be provided with almost-real-time traffic information, and road users could be diverted whenever necessary.

Solar tower power plant

In 2007, the first commercially operated solar tower power plant, the PS10 solar power tower, was commissioned. It has a capacity of eleven megawatt and it is located near Sevilla, in Sanlúcar la Mayor (Spain). DLR is prominently involved in developing the technology for this type of power plant. In solar tower power plants, sun-tracking mirrors (heliostats) redirect the solar radiation onto a central heat exchanger (receiver) on top of a tower. This generates high-temperature process heat, which can then be used in gas or steam turbine power plants to generate electrical power for the public electricity grid. In the future, solar thermal tower plant technology could also be used to generate solar fuels, such as hydrogen, without CO2 emissions.