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Qantas and Solena to explore feasibility of a waste to jet biofuel production plant in Australia

Qantas and Solena to explore feasibility of a waste to jet biofuel production plant in Australia | Solena,Qantas

Artist's impression of Solena's proposed facility in London

Wed 5 Jan 2011 – US-based Solena Group, which is seeking to build and operate a facility in London to convert waste biomass feedstock into sustainable jet fuel, has signed a letter of intent with Qantas to develop a business plan over the next 12 months with a view to building a similar production plant in Australia. The London project, called GreenSky, is due to open in 2014 and will produce around 16 million gallons of jet fuel and nine million gallons of bionaphtha a year when fully operational. Although no details have been released by either side, it is likely Qantas would undertake a long-term offtake agreement to purchase all the jet biofuel produced by the proposed facility, as British Airways has committed to in respect of the London operation. A UK newspaper reports that Solena is also exploring the possibility of partnering with a number of airlines on a similar venture in Dublin, Ireland.


If the Australian project goes forward the facility would likely follow the London model and convert around 500,000 tonnes of municipal waste a year into synthesis gas (BioSynGas), using Solena’s proprietary plasma gasification technology. The BioSynGas is then processed by Fischer-Tropsch technology into jet fuel.


In November, Solena said it was in the advanced stages of securing equity and investment for the $280 million London facility, and had begun preparing debt financing. The company is looking to close all financing by the end of 2011 and start construction in 2012. It is aiming to complete construction by the end of 2013 and start delivering jet fuel to British Airways in 2014.


Qantas told GreenAir Online that the planning for the Australian project was still in the early stages of development and no figures had been placed on the proposed investment.


“As part of its comprehensive environment strategy, the Qantas Group has a strong interest in the development of sustainable alternatives to traditional aviation fuel,” said a spokesperson for the airline. “We are a member of the global Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group and we are closely involved with other industry stakeholders in a ‘road map’ study into the outlook for sustainable aviation fuel development in Australia.

“We are also in discussions with a number of companies about specific fuel-producing technologies.

“Under an agreement with Solena, we have committed to investigate the feasibility of a waste-based aviation fuel production plant in Australia.

“We expect to produce a business case for such a plant within 12 months. While we are still in the early stages of this project, the possibilities are exciting. We hope to announce further details shortly.”


Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that Solena is also in negotiations with easyJet, Ryanair and Aer Lingus about building a plant in Dublin. However, neither Solena nor the airlines would comment on the report.


“Aer Lingus are supportive of green initiatives and developments within the aviation arena, and are open to discussing proposals with Solena. However, such discussions have yet to commence,” a spokesperson for the Irish airline told GreenAir.


EasyJet said that whilst it was always looking into “innovative, environmental solutions” for its aircraft, it could not confirm if any conversations had taken place with Solena. A spokesperson for Ryanair said its policy was not to comment on “rumours and speculations”.


A spokesperson for Solena said it would likely make a formal announcement later this month on its plans.




Solena Group

Qantas - Environment

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Member Opinions:
By: jeffg on 1/5/11

The report above outlining the Qantas £200m biojet plant proposal needs a bit more analysis to enable readers to determine where on the “greenwash/breakthrough” spectrum this announcement should be positioned.

Qantas and its partner, Solena, are investigating constructing a waste-to-jet biofuel plant in Australia but we have no idea, as yet, what this might mean in terms of reducing CO2 emissions from Qantas flights. If this Australian scheme proceeds, it could well mirror the proposed (and probably identical) British Airways/Solena plant, said to be opening in 2014 somewhere in East London, to turn 500,000 tonnes of London's food and biomass waste into jet fuel annually.

The East London plant could produce about 2% of BA's Heathrow fuel needs, according to the airline. BA's latest reported CO2 emissions from their global flight operations were 17,714,897 million tonnes in 2008 – being generous, and also assuming 100% carbon offset from this particular biofuel, BA's emissions would perhaps therefore be 2%/354,300 tonnes less per annum when and if this plant is up and running.

Qantas reports its CO2 emissions as about 12,500,000 tonnes in 2009, so assuming a similar waste-to-jet biofuel production quantity in Australia, Qantas might be aiming for a 2.84% reduction in its emissions.

We understand that British Airways have made no financial investment in the proposed East London plant at all, so it cannot be described as a joint venture – company sources tell us that the airline has simply undertaken, via an exchange of letters, that if Solena can produce jet fuel that's safe, meets industry standards and is priced competitively against everyday petroleum-based kerosene, then BA will consider buying it.

It's clear that both airlines would like us to believe they can slash carbon emissions. Given the recovery in the airline industry underway right now coupled with future growth projections it's highly likely that overall CO2 emissions at both British Airways and Qantas will continue to increase. Grandiose PR-led statements appearing to knock a couple of percentage points off rising CO2 emissions are more to do with manufacturing consent for unrestrained fossil-fuel powered growth than actually combating climate change, I'm afraid.

Jeff Gazzard
Board Member
Aviation Environment Federation, London

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