Qantas agrees to a second Australian alternative jet fuel venture – this time with algae company Solazyme
Sugar cane farm in Queensland, Australia
Wed 16 Feb 2011 – Just a month after entering into an agreement with Solena to explore the potential of a waste-to-jet fuel facility in Sydney, Qantas has announced a collaboration with US-based renewable oil company Solazyme to investigate opportunities for algal-derived sustainable jet fuel. The airline group is carrying out a detailed review of clean technology fuel companies to establish the most promising partnership opportunities as it seeks to replace two to three per cent of its domestic conventional jet fuel usage – representing some 137 million litres – with biofuels by 2015. The Solazyme feasibility study will look at using sugar cane biomass produced in Queensland to feed the company’s microalgae fermentation process. Its highly-rated technology has attracted investors such as Sir Richard Branson, Unilever and Chevron, and has a contract to supply its Solajet fuel to the US Navy for testing. The Qantas venture marks Solazyme’s first Asia-Pacific commercial aviation partnership.
Similar to the Solena agreement, Solazyme and Qantas will work closely together over the next 12 months to develop a business case for the introduction of Solazyme’s sustainable fuel technology in Australia. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said the two companies would also work with government and private sector stakeholders to build a case for clean jet fuel production in Australia.
“Developing sustainable jet fuels is vitally important for the global aviation industry and for the Qantas Group,” said Joyce. “The costs and environmental impacts associated with traditional jet fuel mean it is imperative that we push hard now for the commercialisation of alternative fuel sources.
“We want to be at the forefront of this growing sector, which is why we have chosen to engage two of the most innovative companies in the field: Solazyme and Solena. Qantas will be assessing the feasibility of each of these technologies against stringent commercial and sustainability criteria.”
Solazyme estimates there is currently a six billion litres a year demand for aviation fuel in Australia. The company’s CEO, Jonathan Wolfson, said: “Qantas is establishing a leadership position in the airline industry in supporting the commercialisation of renewable, sustainable aviation fuels. Through this alliance, we intend to use Solazyme’s technology platform to help provide the Australian market with renewable aviation biofuel. We also believe this alliance is a helpful step towards the commercialisation of Solajet.”
According to a report in The Australian newspaper, Solazyme is talking to sugar producers in Queensland. Plant sugars are used to feed optimised microbes to make oils that are then refined into fuel.
How many plants can be built, and where, will depend on the business relations that can be forged with sugar cane mills, refiners and Qantas, Wolfson told the newspaper. The company is looking at a price of $80 a barrel for the input oil before it is refined to jet fuel.
Solazyme says an independent life-cycle assessment showed greenhouse gas emissions of its biodiesel product were 85-93% lower than ultra-low sulphur petroleum equivalents.
Recently, Solazyme was again voted the leading biofuel technology company of the year by readers of the online publication Biofuels Digest.
According to The Australian, Solena was still evaluating locations in Australia but Sydney made the most sense from a hub standpoint, and would be determined by factors such as planning requirements and the availability of feedstock, which was likely to be household waste. CEO Dr Robert Do said he expected the price of the jet fuel to be competitive with current aviation fuel prices, and would offer a greater cost stability that was not available from volatile traditional sources.