Oct 13, 2017

Qantas signs up for large scale LAX biofuels revolution

More heavy hitting evidence that investment funds, as well as true environmental commitments, are getting behind the eradication of fossil carbon releasing fuels

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Qantas 787s ex LAX will also be green on the inside

While the political debate about fossil fuels lurches backwards into the mid 20th century in Canberra, Qantas has taken a leading role among international carriers in making the switch to  biofuels for its flights out of Los Angles from 2020.

Over the next ten years, the airline will purchase eight million gallons (30 million litres) of renewable jet fuel each year from US based bio-energy company, SG Preston. The fuel will be used by Qantas’ aircraft operating from Los Angeles Airport (LAX) to Australia and follows the Qantas Group’s successful domestic biofuel trial flights in 2012.

The fuel consists of 50 percent renewable jet fuel produced from non-food plant oils, blended with 50 percent traditional jet fuel.  Compared to standard jet fuel, the biofuel emits half the amount of carbon emissions per gallon over its life cycle.

CEO of Qantas International and Freight, Gareth Evans said the commercial biofuel agreement is the first of its kind in Australian aviation history.

“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.

“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 with SG Preston 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.

“Through our biofuel program we are also exploring renewable jet fuel opportunities in Australia and continue to work with suppliers to develop locally produced biofuels for aviation use.”

Looking beyond the Qantas SG Preston deal, the opportunities it presents to keep air travel away from the rising levels of anxiety about fossil carbon driven climate charge will undoubtedly see such deals proliferate.

In some jurisdictions, this may be rendered financially rewarding by being linked into carbon trading schemes or tax credits.

Agreements of the size of this Qantas initiative are likely to be airport specific because in an ideal maximum efficiency arrangement the fuel will be made very close to where it will be loaded cutting out the costs in many cases of piping or tankering fossil carbon sourced fuel long distances from the point of extraction and then refinement.

Renewable jet fuel is chemically equivalent to, and meets the same technical, performance and safety standards as conventional jet fuel. SG Preston’s biofuel is produced from renewable plant oils, which do not compete with food production and which meet Qantas’ stringent sustainability certification requirements.

Qantas’ smaller national rival, Virgin Australia, has recently taken on a biojet distribution role at Brisbane Airport, with its own ambitious solar harvesting scheme aimed at reducing its costly dependence on coal fired power generated in Queensland.

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9 thoughts on “Qantas signs up for large scale LAX biofuels revolution

  1. comet

    To achieve this level of biofuel use with every flight on every airline would require a percentage of the planet to be covered in plant oil crops.

    I wonder what level of deforestation would be required for that.

    1. Tom the first and best

      Bring on electric planes, powered by renewable energy!

    2. Dan Dair

      Not necessarily,
      they can conceivably use a fast-growing crop of anything, including trees.???
      AFAIK, the source for biofuels can be the unwanted parts of any number of crops, such as corn or wheat for example, where you grow a lot of plant, but only use a specific bit as a food-source.
      All the rest of the plant could then be processed for biofuel & then presumably, the remnants of the biofuel-waste could still be used as a fertiliser to replenish farmland soil ??

    3. Deano DD

      Quick growing crops such as sugar cane suck more carbon dioxide in than old growth forests , so bring in the chain saws for a win win win
      Win 1) renewable fuel source
      Win 2) remove more carbon when producing bio fuels
      Win 3) reduce the oil money flowing to the Middle East

  2. Roger Clifton

    Adding a splash of something at the refinery might allow the salesmen to call it “biofuel”, but it wouldn’t dodge a carbon tax. Surely the research challenge is to extract CO2 from the air or seawater, add non-carbon electricity, and call the stuff “recycled fuel”.

    1. michael r james

      Surely the research challenge is to extract CO2 from the air or seawater, add non-carbon electricity, and call the stuff “recycled fuel”.

      Precisely. I think the ocean is a very likely source–not least because it is so vast and not competitive with food agriculture. Tim Flannery’s current enthusiasm for giant hanging gardens of kelp in the ocean is one approach, but I remain sceptical about its economics and indeed scalability. I still think phytoplankton-based schemes (which are easier to ocean seed than the kind of infrastructure and nutrients needed for kelp farming which for the moment are entirely coastal) are the most likely. Best of all worlds: capture some of the (solar) energy and carbon into fuels and some carbon into permanent or at least long-term storage (via their calcium-carbonate skeletons).

      Another issue here is that there seems no reason why this shouldn’t happen in Australia. It doesn’t make any sense for biofuel to be shipped across the oceans to refuel planes on this side of the Pacific, and certainly the current and near-term scale won’t support it. (I presume these Qantas planes will use the biofuel only in the westward direction? Anyone?)

      1. Dan Dair

        Maybe they can fly out of Brisbane & hook-up with their (Virgin’s) bio-fuel bunkering.???

    2. Dan Dair

      “Adding a splash of something at the refinery might allow the salesmen to call it “biofuel””

      I’ve seen automotive ‘bio-diesel’ which turned-out to be only 5% ‘bio’.!

      But in this & the situation with VAH at Brisbane, aren’t they talking about more like 50-50 or better for ‘bio’.?
      That’s a lot better than a ‘splash’.!

      1. Roger Clifton

        Dan, yes, I am sceptical. By saying that it is only the salesman promising 50% “bio”, I am implying that there is fine print attached to that promise. Such as, “subject to availability”, “pollution”, “safety”, “chemical stability”, et cetera.

        Availability will become a real issue if the gigantic market for aviation fuel begins to draw on the slack in the market for cooking oils. Pollution becomes a concern if the nitrogen and sulphur content is high, or if the mixture emits fine soot. If anyone shouts the word “safety!”, all promises will go out the window. Chemical stability has always been a problem for aviation if the fuel is not completely hydrogen-saturated, causing nasty surprises like gelling when cold, ice crystals in the line and acidity on the ground.

        Being able to call it “bio” at all has positive marketing value to the industry, whether or not it changes the fossil emissions at all. So we can expect the salesmen to keep calling it “biofuel”, with their fingers crossed behind their backs.

        In contrast synthetic fuel would do exactly what the chemist wants it to do.

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