Qantas works hard to use fuel more efficiently and the next logical step in creating a more sustainable industry is to encourage the development of aviation biofuel.
The environmental impacts and energy security issues associated with traditional fossil-based jet fuel mean it is important that we drive the commercialisation of alternative fuel sources.
To be acceptable for commercial use, aviation biofuel must:
- Be certified in accordance with the aviation industry's stringent safety and performance requirements;
- Achieve a material reduction in lifecycle carbon emissions compared to traditional fossil-based jet fuel and meet comprehensive sustainability criteria, such as Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) certification; and
- 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 (illustrated in the diagram below).
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 Biofuel Flights
Qantas wants to be at the forefront of the development of aviation biofuel in Australia. On 13 April 2012, Qantas operated Australia's first commercial flight powered by aviation biofuel using an Airbus A330. 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 commercial demonstration flights was to raise awareness of the potential benefits and need for a aviation biofuel 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 aviation biofuel is the most important task which will require support from all stakeholders, including government and finance sectors.
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 Australia 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.
- 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. Supportive policy will be needed to facilitate the development of an advanced biofuels (aviation biofuel and renewable diesel) industry in Australia.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG)
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 aviation biofuel.
SAFUG members have pledged that any aviation biofuel 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
In 2010 Qantas worked with aviation stakeholders on an aviation biofuel 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 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 aviation biofuel 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.