Creating a sustainable future with aviation biofuels

Qantas works hard to improve its fuel efficiency, and the next logical step in creating a more sustainable industry is to encourage the development of aviation biofuel.

Unlike fossil fuels, biofuels can be created sustainably. We've already made Australia's first commercial biofuel flight, and now we're using our landmark Qantas Future Planet research to promote and develop the widespread use of aviation biofuel.

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

 

Fossil Fuel

Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Environment 

Environment 

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

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Qantas Future Planet 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 the need for an 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Infrastructure. While existing brownfield refining locations could be used for producing aviation biofuel, new infrastructure would be required, with associated capital costs.
  3. 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)

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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.