A biofuel powered Qantas A330 took to the skies today in an Australian first as the airline announced a new government-backed effort to study the feasibility of an Australian biofuel industry.
“Australia has the skills, resources and infrastructure to take the lead in this emerging sector,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in a press conference ahead of the Sydney-Adelaide flight. “But there are also significant challenges – which is why we need to establish a clear plan.”
The federal government said it would put up $500,000 to back the Qantas study, which aims at finding an economically viable source of aviation biofuel in Australia.
Like other airlines, Qantas has been hit hard by high fuel prices over the past two years, with fuel accounting for its largest operational expense. Qantas has already raised ticket prices twice this year in response to high fuel costs.
That has put a renewed impetus behind efforts to develop cost-effective alternative fuels that could hold down fuel bills while also cutting emissions. Airlines around the world have launched a variety of initiatives to develop economical sources of aviation biofuels, including an effort backed by Virgin Australia and Airbus to make biofuel out of eucalyptus trees.
Qantas last year announced a joint venture with US based company Solazye to study algae-based biofuels, though that effort has gone quiet.
Friday’s heavily touted A330 flight used a 50:50 blend of conventional jet fuel and biofuel derived from cooking oil. The biofuel was supplied by US company SkyNRG.
Biofuel remains significantly more expensive than conventional jet fuel, but Joyce said establishing a sustainable aviation fuel industry was a necessity given the economic and environmental costs of petroleum-based fuels.
“We need to get ready for a future that is not based on traditional jet fuel or frankly we don’t have a future,” he said.
Lufthansa last year became the first airline to establish regularly scheduled biofuel-powered flights with four times daily services between Frankfurt and Hamburg aboard an Airbus A321. Those flights used a 50 per cent blend of biofuels derived partly from animal fats.