Sustainable Aviation Fuel
Developing more sustainable jet fuel is vitally important for the global aviation industry and for the Qantas Group. The environmental impacts and energy security issues associated with traditional fossil based jet fuel mean it is imperative that we push hard now for the commercialisation of alternative fuel sources. The environmental challenges of aviation can only be met if all stakeholders contribute to the effort.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is the name given to advanced jet turbine biofuel made from next generation biomass sources such as algae, municipal waste streams, waste oil and specially selected types of biomass energy crops which do not compete with food crops.
To be acceptable for commercial use, SAF must:
- Be certified in accordance with the aviation industry's stringent safety and performance requirements
- Have a reduced lifecycle carbon emission compared to traditional fossil based jet fuel as well as meet comprehensive sustainability criteria
- Be a 'drop-in' alternative to traditional fossil based jet fuel to avoid costly redesign of engines, airframes or fuel delivery systems.
Relative to fossil fuels, sustainably produced biofuels result in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across their life cycle. Carbon dioxide absorbed by plants during the growth of the biomass is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide produced when the fuel is burned in a combustion engine - which is simply returned to the atmosphere. This would allow the biofuel to be approximately carbon neutral over its life cycle. However, there are emissions produced during the production of biofuels, from the equipment needed to grow the crop, transport the raw goods, refine the fuel and so on. When these elements are accounted for, many biofuels are still expected to provide an anticipated reduction in overall lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of up to 80% compared to fossil fuels. Furthermore, biofuels contain fewer impurities (such as sulphur), which enables an even greater reduction in sulphur dioxide and soot emissions.
Carbon Lifecycle Diagrams
Sustainable Aviation Fuel
|At each stage in the production and distribution chain, |
carbon dioxide is emitted through energy use for
extraction, transport e.t.c.
|Carbon dioxide will be reabsorbed as the next generation of biofuel feedstock is grown. |
Australia's First Commercial SAF Flights
Qantas wants to be at the forefront of the development of Sustainable Aviation Fuel in Australia. On 13 April 2012, Qantas operated Australia's first commercial flight powered by sustainable aviation fuel using an Airbus A330. The flight, QF1211 departed from Sydney at 10.20am and arrived in Adelaide at 12.05pm. The Airbus A330 was powered with a 50:50 blend of biofuel and conventional jet fuel in one engine. Derived from used cooking oil, provided by SkyNRG the life cycle carbon footprint of the biofuel component of the blend was approximately 60 per cent smaller than that of conventional jet fuel.
A few days later, on 19 April 2012, Jetstar became the world's first low cost carrier to operate a commercial biofuel flight. It used the same fuel blend as the Qantas flight in one of its A320s on a flight between Melbourne and Hobart.
The objective of the Qantas and Jetstar commercial demonstration flights was to raise awareness about the potential benefits and need for sustainable aviation fuel industry in Australia.
Many of the technical hurdles facing the aviation industry in its move towards sustainable aviation fuel have been overcome. Now, commercialisation and scaling up of the supply of sustainable aviation fuel is the most important task which will require support from all stakeholders, including government and finance sectors. On the day of the Qantas biofuel fuel flight in April 2012 Qantas announced that it will conduct a feasibility study into the potential for an Australian sustainable aviation fuel industry, backed by funding from the Australian Government and in partnership with Shell. The study will identify current issues and obstacles in sustainable aviation fuel refining and outline options for establishment of bio-refinery capabilities in Australia.
Qantas and Shell aviation biofuel feasibility study
In 2013 Qantas and Shell Australia completed a landmark piece of research to understand the economic viability of producing aviation biofuel in Australian on a commercial scale.
The study, conducted with the support of the Federal Government, found that an aviation biofuel industry is technically viable but significant obstacles remain.
Identifying natural oils as a proven source material, the study modelled a plant capable of producing 1.1 billion litres of renewable fuels, including jet fuel and diesel, per year using existing supply chain infrastructure.
It found that such a plant could be viable if three key priorities are addressed:
- Feedstock. The volume of sustainable natural oil feedstocks available at a competitive price in Australia is not sufficient to power a commercial scale biofuel plant. This volume and price gap has potential to be filled by increased investment, research and development in production of emerging feedstocks such as algae and pongamia.
- Infrastructure. While existing brownfield refining locations could be used for producing aviation biofuel, new infrastructure would be required, with associated capital costs.
- Policy. Government production incentives currently favour biodiesel over aviation biofuel. Extending biodiesel production grants to bio-jet fuel would go a long way to making a commercial plant viable.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG)
Qantas is working hard to accelerate the development and commercialisation of alternative fuels that are more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable than finite fossil fuels.
Qantas is a signatory member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG), a global group of leading airlines and aviation companies working together with scientific agencies and leading environmental non-government organisations (NGOs) to accelerate the commercialisation of Sustainable Aviation Fuel.
SAFUG members have pledged that any Sustainable Aviation Fuel will in summary:
- Perform as well as, or better than, traditional fossil fuel jet kerosene from a technical perspective but with a smaller carbon lifecycle;
- Use only biomass feedstock sources that minimise biodiversity impacts, require minimal land, water, and energy to produce;
- Not compromise food security;
- Not jeopardise drinking water supplies; and
- Provide socioeconomic value to local communities where biomass is grown.
World-first Sustainable Aviation Fuel Roadmap Study for Australia and New Zealand
To accelerate the commercialisation of SAF, Qantas worked with aviation stakeholders on a SAF Industry Roadmap study relevant to Australia and New Zealand titled Flight Path to Sustainable Aviation with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's peak scientific agency.
The SAF Industry Roadmap built on international developments, but focussed on the unique advantages and challenges of our region. Specifically, it looked at addressing barriers to a commercial and scalable SAF industry by bringing together stakeholders from aviation, science, traditional transport fuel supply, finance, government and environmental NGOs.
The CSIRO Flight Path to Sustainable Aviation Report, released in 2011, makes a compelling case for an Australian and New Zealand bio-derived jet fuel industry that could create numerous significant benefits over the next 20 years including:
- Economic value - Reduce Australia's reliance on fuel imports by over A$2 billion per annum and create an new clean energy industry that could export to the world;
- Social value - Generate more than 12,000 clean energy jobs, especially in regional Australia and improve Australia's energy security; and
- Environmental value - Decrease greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent in the Australian aviation sector.
Growing a viable SAF industry
Many of the technical hurdles facing the aviation industry in its move towards Sustainable Aviation Fuel have now been overcome and much of this work has been achieved within the industry. Now, commercialisation and scaling up of the supply of sustainable aviation fuel is the most important task which will requires support from all stakeholders, including government and finance sectors. We must work together on this journey.
This effort should focus on:
- Research and development - Fostering research and development into new feedstock sources and refining processes;
- Business certainty - De-risking public and private investment in SAF;
- Unlocking opportunity - Overcoming barriers and provide incentives that enable and accelerate the commercialisation and scaling up of the SAF value chain;
- Sustainability - Encouraging stakeholders to commit to robust harmonised international sustainability criteria such as that of the Roundtable of Sustainable Biofuels;
- Collaboration - Establishing coalitions encompassing all parts of the SAF value chain; and
- Education - Building awareness and understanding of local cleaner energy growth opportunities