Qantas flight QF96 to feature biofuel blend

Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZNA at Melbourne Airport. (Victor Pody)
Qantas Boeing 787-9 VH-ZNA at Melbourne Airport. (Victor Pody)

When Qantas flight QF96 takes off from Los Angeles bound for Melbourne on Sunday night (local time) the fuel powering Boeing 787-9 VH-ZNA’s two GE Aviation GEnx-1B engines will include about 24,000kg of biofuel.

The biofuel has been derived from a type of (non-food) mustard seed called carinata, and the flight is part of Qantas’s work with Canada-based Agrisoma Biosciences that was first announced in late 2017.

“Our partnership with Agrisoma marks a big step in the development of a renewable jetfuel industry in Australia – it is a project we are really proud to be part of as we look at ways to reduce carbon emissions across our operations,” Qantas international chief executive Alison Webster said in a statement on Monday (Australian time).

Qantas said the 24,000kg of biofuel blend used on QF96 represented an 18,000kg saving in carbon emissions. It described the milestone as “the world’s first dedicated biofuel flight between Australia and the United States”.

Further, the company said that across its lifecycle, using Carinata-derived biofuel helped reduced carbon emissions by 80 per cent compared to traditional jet fuel.

“Today’s flight will therefore see a seven per cent reduction in emissions on this route compared to normal operations,” Qantas said.

A file image of the Carinata seed for planting. (Qantas)
A file image of the Carinata seed for planting. (Qantas)

Qantas said its first trans-Pacific biofuel flight was also made possible thanks to the support of AltAir Fuels and World Fuel Services.

The airline said previously the longer-term aim was to grow 400,000 hectares of carinata, which could produce 200 million litres of biojet fuel annually, noting trials by The University of Queensland field in Queensland and South Australia in 2017 “demonstrated it should do very well in the Australian climate”.

Some 2,000 litres of oil can be extracted from one hectare of carinata seed crops. Those 2,000 litres produce 400 litres of biofuel, 1,400 litres of renewable diesel and 10 per cent renewable by-products, Qantas said.

Meanwhile, the crushed carinata seed is suitable as a food for Australian livestock.

Qantas and its low-cost carrier subsidiary Jetstar operated their first biofuel flights in 2012, using cooking oil.

The partnership with Agrisoma follows Qantas’s announcement in October 2017 it planned to purchase 30 million litres of the renewable fuel produced by US-based SG Preston, which would be used on its flights from Los Angeles to Australia from 2020.

Virgin Australia also has a biofuel initiative in the works, announcing in October 2017 a two-year trial blending sustainable aviation fuel with traditional jet fuel for use on flights departing Brisbane in partnership with Brisbane Airport, the Queensland Government and fuel supplier Gevo Inc.

Virgin Australia, which is coordinating the purchase, supply and blending of the fuels , said at the time the initiative was the first time in this country that biofuel would be supplied through an airport’s regular fuel supply system.

Further, Virgin Australia said the fuel was already being used on its flights departing Los Angeles to Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

The development of an aviation biofuel has progressed as the industry strives to meet carbon reduction targets.

In October 2016, an overwhelming majority of the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s 191 member states agreed to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

The landmark agreement has among its targets for the industry to achieve carbon neutral growth by 2020, and a 50 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, compared with 2005 levels.

ICAO has also come up with a CO2 emissions standard, where aircraft will have to meet a maximum fuel burn per flight kilometre baseline which must not be exceeded. The standard would apply to new aircraft designs from 2020, while new deliveries of current in-production aircraft models would be subject to the CO2 standard from 2023.

Further, the ICAO measure also recommended a cut-off date of 2028 for production aircraft that did not comply with the standard.

Moreover, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has set a target of an average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5 per cent per year from 2009 to 2020, as well as aspirations to build an aircraft that produced no emissions within 50 years.

Figures from IATA showed air transport accounted for about two per cent of global man-made CO2 emissions. The figure has been relatively constant over the past 20 years and was not expected to increase beyond three per cent by 2050.

An International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) report, recently ranked Qantas last among 20 airlines operating across the Pacific for fuel efficiency in terms of passenger kilometres per litre of fuel.

However, Qantas said the study did not accurately reflect all its measures to reduce fuel consumption and was not a true representation of the airline’s fuel efficiency across the Pacific.

Specifically, the airline said its use of more efficient flightpaths using its Dynamic Airborne Reroute Procedures (DARP) which allowed for inflight adjustments to flightpaths based on updated weather information was not considered.

Also, Qantas noted its pilots had developed a flight data application, FlightPulse, that was unveiled in September 2017, and established a biofuel partnerships in both Australia and the US to support the development of renewable jetfuel production.


  1. Mike Borgelt says

    Aviation produces 2% of man caused CO2 emissions? Hardly seems worth the trouble to do anything about it, as if aviation emissions were halved it would make a 1% difference to total emissions. Not that I worry about CO2 at all and with any luck within the next 5 to 10 years this whole madness will have run its course as people finally notice that there is nothing unusual going on with the weather or climate.

  2. Scott says

    Worlds first “between Australia and USA” thats gold.
    Airlines have been doing this for a while,

  3. Ash says

    @Mike: I was hoping 5 to 10 years ago that this madness would run it’s course in 5 to 10 years time, but here we still are.

    It’s a shame big businesses are so intent on virtue signalling while their customers generally vote on price, service quality and convenience, as per the understandably poor uptake of the Qantas voluntary carbon offset program.

  4. Mike Borgelt says

    Seven years in meteorology/atmospheric science/environmental science, Archie. You?
    We could probably reduce CO2 emissions more easily from aviation by improving the number of runways and air traffic control, if you think it matters. Save money at the same time. Clearly nobody in positions of power does as there isn’t a desperate world wide program to generate all electricity from nuclear. That is the low hanging fruit.

  5. Archie says

    I’m just a pleb who likes to think people whose job it is to study the climate aren’t part of some giant conspiracy, I trust these people as I think it’s dangerous to dismiss what they are saying and think I know more.

    I am with you 100% on nuclear however its in the too-hard basket in this country. As far as aviation goes, you’re right, incremental advances in efficiency is probably the best that can be done.

  6. Bill says

    Do biofuels affect the the performance of the engines? Is there an extra maintenance burden of having to clean the injectors or other fuel system parts due the difference in viscosity?

  7. James says

    Biofuel and Diesel GA aircraft are such exciting developments in aviation right now.
    Cannot wait to see what the future brings.

  8. Stuart says

    Sounds good. Let’s chop down what’s left of the Amazon rainforest, then take the Daintree, to make way for millions of hectares of these carinata crops.

  9. Mike Borgelt says

    @Archie. As Reagan said :”trust but verify”. An old slogan hung in the flight control room at NASA in its glory days ” In God we trust, all others must bring data”. Here’s a nice summation
    Start looking around from there and you’ll see that all biofuels are going to do is make aviation more expensive and possibly introduce new hazards. I sure hope somebody does a real energy balance on the mustard seeds as the re will be not insignificant amounts of diesel used to plant, fertilise, harvest, process and transport the biofuel. If you are really lucky you might get a little more than if you simply burned the diesel.

  10. NJP says

    Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, Recover…….. every effort we can make to save the environment is worth it, as long as the net result is positive.

    New aircraft with reduced fuel consumption & improved flight planning are no-brainers.

    I would be interested to learn if recovered oil (from say the fast food industry) can be refined into aviation fuel?) we could have flights powered by McDonalds/KFC!

  11. Marc says

    One good volcanic eruption equals the entire world’s annual co2 output.

    Why do we muck around with food sources?

    Australia’s hottest day in January occurred in 1905 and highest Jan min temp in 1965.

    Complete PR nonsense.

  12. aviatorman says

    Lots of talk about CO2 reduction, but how energy efficient is it as a fuel? ( not the engines efficiency). What is the calorific value of this mustard stuff.? expressed as Kilojoules per KG compared with standard JP1 etc.