Qantas flights from LA and San Francisco will soon use sustainable aviation fuel partly derived from waste almond orchards and other scrap agricultural products.
On Tuesday, the business agreed to a deal to buy almost 20 million tonnes of the product from US biofuels company Aemetis, for use from 2025.
It comes months after the Flying Kangaroo signed a separate deal with BP to purchase 10 million litres of SAF to use on its flights from London.
SAF produces up to 80 per cent fewer emissions than traditional jet kerosene and is compatible with Qantas’ existing aircraft.
The sustainable fuel for its US flights will be blended 40/60 with regular fuel and be produced at Aemetis’ 125-acre plant currently under development in Riverbank, California. It will lower emissions on flights out of San Francisco by 8 per cent and save 15,000 tonnes of carbon per year.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce used the announcement to criticise the lack of investment in creating these fuels in Australia.
“At the moment, we can only buy sustainable fuels offshore,” said Joyce. “The US, UK and Europe have industries that have developed with a lot of government support because this is a new field and the long-term benefits for those countries are obvious.
“Qantas has already committed $50 million to support the development of a SAF industry in Australia, and we’d be its biggest customer. As well as the environmental and economic benefits, a local SAF industry would reduce the nation’s dependence on imported fuels.
“For now, SAF is more expensive than traditional fossil fuels but with the right investment it could grow to a scale where the cost is on par.”
Aemetis’ product will be created from biomass generated from scrap agricultural products such as orchards and vineyards and combined with renewable vegetable oil and animal fats.
“There are more than a million acres of almond orchards in California,” Aemetis’ website explains. “Almond trees are removed and new trees are planted every 15-25 years. Farmers typically burn more than two million tons per year of agricultural waste, resulting in high emissions and poor air quality for surrounding communities.
“Through a process called gasification, the Aemetis facility will distill the wood fibers to create hydrogen. This hydrogen is then combined with vegetable oil and animal fat to produce sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel.”
Qantas said it is pursuing “a number of additional deals” to add more SAF in the US and other international airports, in order to hit its target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. It said it will also outline an interim target later this month.
Its previous deal to use SAF on flights from London saw Qantas purchase 10 million litres of SAF in 2022 with an option to purchase up to another 10 million litres in 2023 and 2024 for flights from Heathrow Airport.
This represents up to 15 per cent of Qantas’ annual fuel use out of the British capital and will reduce its carbon emissions by 10 per cent.
Qantas’ chief sustainability officer, Andrew Parker, said in December, “Zero emission technology like electric aircraft or green hydrogen are still a very long way off for aviation, and even further away for long haul flights like London to Australia. SAF and high-quality carbon offsetting are therefore critical on the path to net zero.
“Aviation biofuels typically deliver around an 80 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis compared to the jet fuel it is replacing and is the most significant tool airlines have to reduce their impact on the environment
“The technology is already tried and tested, and it can be used in the aircraft we have now, which is why government and industry overseas are investing heavily to build their own SAF industries.”