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Apr 13, 2012

Qantas burns the cooking oil to keep its green cred alive

Despite the wisecracks about ‘cheap as chips’ today’s Qantas demonstration flight from Sydney to Adelaide and back using biofuel derived from cooking oil  is important and benefi


Despite the wisecracks about ‘cheap as chips’ today’s Qantas demonstration flight from Sydney to Adelaide and back using biofuel derived from cooking oil  is important and beneficial.

It also keeps alive the green credibility Qantas has earned at a time when its plans for an investment with US firms Solena and Solyzene for aviation fuel making plants in this country based on recycled waste and algal products appear to be slowing down.

In the statement released just before the Qantas A330 left for Adelaide there was no mention of what for the airline had been a high profile venture with Solena.

That’s as clear a sign of any of a problem.

However today’s flight reaffirms the Qantas commitment to non-fossil-carbon releasing alternative pathways to producing what remains so far as engines and fuel pumps are concerned, a liquid indistinguishable in power and handling characteristics to the equivalent volume of refined aviation grade kerosene.

The fuel being used in one of the A330’s engines is the same blend of normally produced aviation kerosene plus waste cooking oil derived kerosene that Dutch firm SkyNRG produced last year for Lufthansa for a successful six months long trial on short haul European routes.

At the moment, as Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said at a pre-flight press conference, biofuel alternatives work, but not at a competitive price or volume of supply to aviation grade kerosene refined from oil.

However yesterday Joe Ozimek, the senior Boeing executive pushing Australian carriers to buy the 737 MAX, said that with every barrel of biofuel that was produced, the price would fall.

In a conversation, he said that what was today a boutique fuel moves closer to being a utility fuel with every extra quantity that was produced, and with every upward notch in the price of oil.

And as many others in the alternative fuel game have been saying at green fuel conferences since at least 2003, biofuels as they gain in volume, and decline in price, are a brake on the ability of oil producers to lift prices.

The cross over price at which oil today, going up, would run into biofuels, coming down, is around $US140 per barrel WTI or West Texas intermediate crude as a proxy value.  That also gives oil in recent months an advantage of between $45 per barrel and $30 per barrel.

But the gap is closing.  The alternative fuels industry in general doesn’t ever see biofuels being produced in the volumes needed to replace kerosene refined from fossil-carbon-releasing  oil.  That role is seen as being taken by algal grown octanes, which research already shows can be made in tanks and without any loss of  productive agricultural land,  but is considered to be a goal as near as 2030 or as far as 2050.

Algal grown fuels, whether for jets, or in less demanding roles to replace heating, industrial, maritime and land transport fuels, would reduce the release of fossil-sourced carbon into the natural environment by around 80% according to James Hansen, at the GISS.

The carbon used in such fuels is taken from the air, water or soil carbon sinks, and put back into the natural carbon cycle interchanges when it is burned, while fossil-carbon releasing fuels are rapidly overwhelming those natural cycles with a carbon overburden they cannot  handle.


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10 thoughts on “Qantas burns the cooking oil to keep its green cred alive

  1. Robert E. Coli

    The problem, of course, is where the fuel comes from. At Thromby Air we believe we have the answer…

  2. TT

    I was listening to ABC radio in Adelaide this afternoon, where they interviewed a Qantas spokesperson. He claimed the data collected from today’s flight indicated a better than expected performance from the biofuel! He also claim today’s flight is a (surprise!) PR exercise to try get Government’s commitment for more $$ into research on biofuel production in Australia.

    Another interesting note the Qantas spokesperson made on the interview is that around 20-30% of Qantas passengers have opted in to pay for the carbon offset when booked!!

  3. Ben Sandilands

    Lufthansa reported a similar result on its very long six month trial using a single aisle Airbus and the same SkyNRG fuel. I am surprised at the carbon offset purchase quoted, unless it was a reference to today’s flight, which I understand was strongly booked by passengers who wanted to be on it by virtue of it being an important event.

  4. Bill Parker

    It would be informative if the technology behind the hype was fleshed out a bit more. I can see a strong future for bio-fuels based on algae, but ultimately its the price per litre and the capacity of start-up plants to deliver the volume that matters. Are we talking lipid feedstock and a trans-esterification step (I assume so) but what then? How is the resultant biodiesel prepared for combustion in jet engines?

    Why algae? Because we have a lot of experience in Australia in algal biotech, we have some ideal locations using seawater as the growth medium, and plenty of coastal lands in the right locations. It makes no energetic sense (ultimately) to ship the fuel from long distances.

  5. Concorde

    I was one of those passengers who booked a seat on this flight specifically to be part of such an historic event for Australian Aviation. I mentioned this to one of the flight attendants and five minutes later Captain Phil Davenport came back to have a brief chat to me about the flight. He told me that the starbord side engine that was running a 50:50 mix of A1 and refined cooking oil was performing about 2 to 3 percent better than the port side engine running purely on A1.

    I was made aware of the special flight through the various news sites late last month and booked a red eye flight out from Adelaide this morning so i could return on QF1121. My understanding is that many onboard didn’t actually realise the significance of the flight when they booked as it was sold as any other. The only clue prior to boarding was that there was a notation in the comments area on your boarding pass saying: “Powered By Biofuel”. The Captain gave a nice speech about the flight when onboard and made it known we were part of history.

    Just for the record, it didn’t smell like chips either.

  6. c0nnect4

    Why WTI? For the locally more relevant Tapis or Brent, the spread is more like $18-$12

  7. TT

    Ben: my understanding is he was referring 20-30% as the average carbon offset for all Qantas flights, not just QF1121/QF1120. But then again, I was listening the radio while I was driving a loan car across metropolitan Adelaide, with an idiotic driver cut right in front of me while I had to brake (and horn) heavily to avoid an accident. My listening concentration was certainly sub-optimal…

  8. Ben Sandilands

    Agree re WTI. However it is used as the proxy value at every conference and press conference and in every paper I have read to track the value against the USD as the constant while the Australian and Singapore dollars move. And it is annoying at times. Delta has gone against the trend to deleverage by airlines by the way and is claiming that by purchasing a US refinery that produced av gas and was being closed down it will save 10% off its fuel bill by cutting out middle men. Intriguing. The rest of the industry there is watching with great interest to see if this actually happens and works as Delta hopes it will.

    Thanks TT. That is a very encouraging indicator of public support.

  9. Davidrichard

    I am new to the blogging stuff so i do not have any idea to express my thoughts over here. Please share more information.

    Cooking Oil recycling

    1. Ben Sandilands

      David, You know enough to include a link to a commercial site. If you use the search engines you can find out everything you could possibly want to know.

      Among the dozens of more recent stories in Plane Talking this one may be of interest.



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