Qantas transpacific biofuel flight heralds future for farming of carinata oilseed crop in Australia
Carinata seeds (photo: Qantas)
Tue 13 Feb 2018 – The first commercial flight to use a biofuel blend between the United States and Australia has been undertaken by Qantas. Flying from Los Angeles to Melbourne, the Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner operated with around 24,000kg of blended biofuel processed from Brassica carinata, a non-food industrial oilseed crop developed by Canadian agricultural technology company Agrisoma Biosciences. Having previously looked at a number of potential sustainable aviation fuel pathways, the airline now believes its new partnership with Agrisoma will be a big step in the development of a renewable jet fuel industry in Australia. Water efficient and requiring no specialised production or processing techniques, field trials have shown carinata should do very well in the Australian climate, says Qantas. Agrisoma is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) and last month AltAir Fuels, which produced the blend for the Qantas flight, was certified by the organisation.
On a life-cycle basis, Agrisoma claims its carinata-derived fuel can reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared to traditional jet fuel and the 10% biofuel blend used on the flight therefore saw a 7% reduction in emissions on the route compared to normal operations.
Agrisoma’s jet biofuel has already been used unblended in a research flight undertaken by the Canadian government’s National Research Council back in 2012 (see article).
Carinata – a type of mustard seed – can be sown in either fallow areas where food crops fail or in between regular crop cycles, known as cover cropping. Rotational or break-crops can improve soil quality, reduce erosion for food crops and provide farmers with additional income, says the company. It claims one hectare of carinata seed yields 2,000 litres of oil, which produces 400 litres of biofuel, 1,400 litres of renewable diesel and the remainder in renewable by-products.
“Biojet fuel made from carinata delivers both oil for biofuel and protein for animal nutrition while also enhancing the soil it’s grown in,” commented CEO Steve Fabijanski. “We are excited about the potential of the crop in Australia and look forward to working with local farmers and Qantas to develop a clean energy source for the local aviation industry.”
Since the Qantas flight, Agrisoma has entered into carinata distribution discussions with Australian company Nuseed, which has sales in 30 countries and advanced trials in Australia, Europe, North America and South America. It has over 100 research staff working across nine global locations plus two innovation centres and develops unique canola, sorghum and sunflower plant traits for high yields.
“Carinata is grown and harvested much like canola,” said Fabijanski, explaining the venture. “With Nuseed we have a seed distribution partner with agronomic knowledge, connection and commitment to Australian growers, plus expertise in production from grower to processor.”
Having previously used biofuel sourced from used cooking oil on trial flights in 2012, Qantas is hopeful that farmers will be growing the first commercial aviation biofuel seed crop by 2020.
The jet fuel for the Qantas flight was delivered by World Fuel Services having been produced at AltAir’s Paramount refinery in California, the world’s first commercial-scale renewable jet fuel plant. It is capable of producing around 35 million gallons of renewable fuel annually, including Honeywell Green Jet Fuel and also biojet for United Airlines.
The AltAir certification by RSB covers the production of biojet fuel, renewable diesel and naphtha. “The RSB applauds AltAir in its commitment to sustainability by applying the world’s most trusted, peer reviewed standard and gaining RSB certification,” said RSB Executive Director, Rolf Hogan. “As the leading producer of commercial biojet fuel, AltAir has demonstrated that the aviation sector can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting the highest standards of sustainability and transparency.”
Responded AltAir Founder and President Bryan Sherbacow: “By achieving RSB certification, we now have third-party verification of field to wing or tank GHG reductions of at least 60%. These measurable results ensure that AltAir customers and their stakeholders are meeting their respective sustainability targets.”