Qantas and Virgin Australia agree to purchase renewable jet fuels from US companies
Tue 17 Oct 2017 – Qantas has announced that its flights from Los Angeles will be powered by biofuel from 2020 as a result of an off-take agreement with US bioenergy company SG Preston. The Australian airline says it will purchase 8 million gallons (30 million litres) of renewable jet fuel per year for a 10-year period. The fuel will be a 50/50 blend of conventional jet fuel and renewable fuel produced from non-food plant oils that is claimed to emit half the comparable amount of carbon emissions on a life-cycle basis. Last year, SG Preston entered into a similar off-take agreement with JetBlue in which the US carrier will purchase more than 33 million gallons of blended jet fuel per year for at least 10 years, with the renewable jet fuel portion making up 30% of the total blend. Meanwhile, Qantas rival Virgin Australia has announced it will shortly start trialling the use of renewable jet fuel supplied by Gevo through Brisbane Airport’s existing fuel supply system.
Qantas and JetStar operated Australia’s first biofuel trial flights in 2012, which both used fuels derived from used cooking oil blended 50/50 with conventional jet fuel. The agreement though with SG Preston is the first of its kind in Australian aviation history, said Gareth Evans, CEO of Qantas International and Freight.
“The partnership with SG Preston is part of our commitment to lowering carbon emissions across our operations and sees us becoming the first Australian airline to use renewable jet fuel on an ongoing basis,” he said. “As an airline group we are constantly looking for ways to become more fuel efficient and embrace new technologies and this partnership is a significant step on that journey.
“Our agreement allows us to secure a supply for our Los Angeles based aircraft where we have a large fuel demand and where the biofuel industry is more advanced.”
The Virgin Australia trial is a reverse situation in which US renewable alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuel company Gevo will ship four batches of jet biofuel to Brisbane, Queensland, over the two-year course of the trial, with the first batch expected this month. The Virgin Australia Group is responsible for coordinating the purchase, supply and blending of the ATJ into the fuel supply system at Brisbane Airport. The ATJ will be shipped from Gevo’s hydrocarbon plant in Silsbee, Texas, having been derived from isobutanol produced at its commercial plant in Luverne, Minnesota.
“This initiative builds on Virgin Australia’s commitment to be a leader in the commercialisation of the sustainable aviation fuel industry in Australia,” said CEO John Borghetti. “The project is critical to testing the fuel supply chain infrastructure in Australia to ensure that Virgin Australia and Brisbane Airport are ready for the commercial supply of these exciting fuels.”
Queensland is looking to exploit locally abundant carbohydrate-based feedstocks to support building renewable jet fuel production plants in the future and the Queensland government is supporting the Gevo/Virgin Australia venture as a first step.
“We believe Queensland offers huge potential for low-cost, biomass-based feedstocks to produce biofuels,” said GEVO CEO Dr Patrick Gruber.
Qantas said it was exploring renewable jet fuel opportunities in Australia and working with suppliers to develop locally produced biofuels for aviation use.
Virgin Australia had partnered with Air New Zealand in issuing a request for information (RFI) in March 2016 seeking companies interested in meeting the long-term biofuel goals of the two airlines (see article). Although still intending to share knowledge and information, they have since gone their separate ways.
This past August, Air New Zealand said it had narrowed the field from an initial list of around 30 to two companies, one of which was US-based Fulcrum BioEnergy. The municipal waste to renewable jet fuel provider has United Airlines and Cathay Pacific among its shareholders. The other unnamed company is believed to be based overseas and interested in bringing its technology to New Zealand to locally produce biofuels from, most likely, wood waste from the timber industry.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk visited the Fulcrum waste-to-fuels plant in Nevada on a trade visit to the United States in June.