Qantas will operate the world’s first biofuel flight between the United States and Australia early in the new year in collaboration with World Fuel Services and Altair Fuels. Qantas’ new Dreamliner is being powered by Brassica Carinata (carinata), a non-food, industrial type of mustard seed that has been around for years but is seeing increased use and viability thanks to new developments and improvements with the feedstock for biofuels, animal feed, chemicals, and other uses.
The news of the flight follows Qantas’ signing of a landmark partnership with Agrisoma Biosciences, the Canadian based agricultural-technology company that developed the carinata seed. The two organisations will work with Australian farmers to grow the country’s first commercial aviation biofuel seed crop by 2020.
“Our long-term goal with this partnership is to grow the crop at a target of 400,000 hectares, which will ultimately produce more than 200 million litres of bio jet fuel for the airline,” said Steven Fabijanski, Agrisoma’s president and CEO.
Bringing carinata production to Australia
Qantas International CEO Alison Webster said the early 2018 historic flight and the partnership mark the first step in developing an aviation biofuel supply in Australia. “We are constantly looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions across our operations but when it comes to using renewable jet fuel, until now, there has not been a locally grown option at the scale we need to power our fleet. Our work with Agrisoma will enable Australian farmers to start growing today for the country’s biofuel needs of the future. The trans-Pacific biofuel flight is a demonstration of what can be achieved locally.”
“The longer-term strategic goal of the partnership is to grow 400,000 hectares of carinata, which would yield over 200 million litres of bio-jet fuel each year,” said Ms Webster. “This will support the development of a renewable jetfuel supply and bio-refinery in Australia to power our fleet and further reduce carbon emissions across our operations.” Another part of the plan down the road is to grow seeds elsewhere around the world to support Qantas’s global travel network.
The University of Queensland field trials in Gatton, Queensland, and in Bordertown, South Australia, have demonstrated that carinata should do very well in the Australian climate. It is sown in either fallow areas where food crops fail or in between regular crop cycles, known as ‘cover cropping’. Rotational or ‘break’ crops improve soil quality, reduce erosion for food crops and provide farmers with additional annual income.
Agrisoma CEO Steve Fabijanski said carinata-based fuel offers a significant reduction in carbon emissions. “Our commercial operations in the USA, South America and Europe are certified as producing fuels with more than 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in comparison to standard petroleum-based fuel,” said Mr Fabijanski. “Importantly for farmers, the crushed seed also produces a high-quality, high-protein, non-GMO meal for the Australian livestock, dairy and poultry market.”
The production of Agrisoma’s carinata is being expanded to multiple locations globally to provide a supply of sustainable, non-food oils for meeting the demand for sustainable biofuels.
Carinata is a pretty impressive feedstock, producing up to 140 gallons of jet fuel per acre with some trials reaching as high as 200 gallons per acre. Carinata fuels could be eligible for support via the LCFS and the US Renewable Fuel Standard — up to $0.80 due to the LCFS and another $1.50 in advanced biofuels RIN. (Yes, advanced biofuel RIN are priced around $1.00 — but consider that jet fuels have 1.5 times the energy density of ethanol, so they get added RIN). That provides $4.00 to the value chain – growers, oil crushers and hydrotreaters.
The Qantas news on choosing Agrisoma to establish an Australian-based supply chain for its carinata-based jet fuel is not just another big announcement by another big airline. It’s another move in the needle. It’s another commercialisation champion moving forward to make things happen. It’s getting bio jet fuel from being a pie in the sky idea to a fly in the sky reality.