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.
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.