This KLM A330-200 recently set a long distance record for a bio fuel flight: Airbus photo

Airbus will give an upbeat assessment of Australia’s progress in identifying a value chain for making jet fuel farming a new earner for its agricultural sector at a forum in Perth today.

The cause for the optimism, tempered by some hard headed analysis of the challenges as well as the opportunities, is the just released findings of a two year study of a proposed Mallee scrub to aviation fuel enterprise published by the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Centre (CRC).

Speaking before the forum Frederic Eychenne, Airbus New Energies Program Manager said, “There is a massive opportunity in Australia to develop these mallee growing lands with no impact to agriculture and water quality, and to make Perth a hub airport for distributing such fuel to airlines which as a result will lower their carbon footprint across their operations.”

Eychenne said that in global terms there are now six or seven highly efficient yet different value chain pathways to bio fuels based on the conversion of natural sugars to a replacement or ‘drop in’ alternative to aviation grade kerosene  that can be used in any existing jet engine in their own right or as blends  to reduce the emission of fossil sourced carbon.

Some of these pathways could be considered very practicable and attractive at a commercial level in the next two to three years.

“These bio fuels have already demonstrated their technical success,” he said.

“Sustainability, availability and price (influenced on some cases by policy settings related to carbon offsets or similar) remain issues that will have different answers in various countries, reflecting differences in climate, feed stock, agricultural practices and logistics.”

The pathways to biofuel replacements for kerosene derived from fossil fuel stock would have significantly different answers in parts of the Asia-Pacific hemisphere, and even within countries with considerable variations in land use and other factors including perhaps within Australia.

However Eychenne emphasised that notwithstanding the multiplicity of processes and solutions that could be used to produce commercially attractive volumes of bio fuel, the end product would always be the same, a fuel that had all of the characteristics and energy content of fossil energy sourced aviation kerosene, and could replace it litre for litre without any need to modify engines or operational procedures.

The sustainability and life-cycle analysis in the Future Farm Industries CRC report covered the growing and harvesting of the mallee tree and its conversion into aviation grade biofuel via the pyrolysis thermal process developed by Dynamotive and IFP energies nouvelles (IFPEN).

Mallee trees flourish in regions of poor soil and don’t directly compete for water or with food production. The vast Great Southern region of Western Australia was used in the study, which included examining the viability of a complete industry supply chain from grower to aviation user.

Dr John McGrath, CRC research director said “Mallees can provide a future economic benefit to farmers and regional communities, with a viable industry possible by 2021.

“Mallee integrates well with farm crop and livestock operations and can protect and enhance biodiversity, and contributing to rebalancing water tables.”

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