A three-year study into the viability of aviation biofuels has been released by The University of Queensland, James Cook University, Boeing, Virgin Australia, Mackay Sugar and IOR Energy.
Researchers at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology looked at the engineering and associated financial viability of biofuel production. The work involved detailed techno-economic modelling of the processes to convert three feedstocks – sucrose from sugar cane; microalgae; and oily seeds from the Pongamia tree – to produce a minimum selling price for aviation biofuel.
The results showed that using current proven technologies, the biofuels would be economically competitive with crude oil at a price per barrel of $301 (sugarcane), $374 (Pongamia seeds) and $1,343 (microalgae).
While the research showed biofuel processes still require research and innovation to become economically viable for use in aircraft compared to existing fuels, the aim was to identify research priorities that will have the largest impact on lowering the price.
A major biofuel research effort is underway around the world that could also yield additional breakthroughs to further lower the costs.
“This research is a major step forward in understanding the unique feedstock opportunities in Queensland and how they might be commercialised in the future,” Virgin Australia group executive of people, culture and sustainability, Geraldine Chin Moody, said. “The commercialisation of biofuel is a key priority for Virgin Australia and we look forward to continuing to work together with our partners to enable a strong and viable biofuel industry in Queensland.”
Success in making biofuels viable would allow the Australian agricultural industries to diversify their product portfolios, with the potential for new manufacturing plants in rural areas such as North Queensland.
The results of the unique study as part of the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative have been published in the international journal Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining and were presented at the Boeing-hosted Aero Environment Summit in Sydney.