Qantas operates world’s first biofuel flight between USA and Australia


Mustard seeds used to produce the Qantas biofuel flight

Australian airline Qantas has operated the first commercial flight between the USA and Australia fueled by biofuel.

The 15-hour flight QF96 between Los Angeles, California, and Melbourne, Victoria, took off on January 28 fueled by approximately 24,000kg of blended biofuel that will save 18,000kg in carbon emissions, Qantas said. The 10% biofuel blend used on the flight represents a 7% reduction in emissions on this route compared to normal operations.

The biofuel is processed from Brassica carinata, a non-food, industrial type of mustard seed, developed by Canadian-based agricultural-technology company Agrisoma Biosciences.

The flight is part of a partnership between Agrisoma and Qantas first announced in November 2017. The companies have also launched a program to grow commercial aviation biofuel seed crop by 2020 in Australia.

Qantas has been testing biofuels since 2012, when the airline and its low-cost subsidiary Jetstar operated trial flights between the cities of Sydney, New South Wales, and Adelaide, South Australia, and Melbourne and Hobart, Tasmania, on Airbus A330s.

Alison Webster, CEO of Qantas International, said, “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.”

Across its lifecycle, using carinata-derived biofuel can reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared to traditional jet fuel, said Qantas.

Steve Fabijanski, CEO of Agrisoma, said, “Biojet fuel made from carinata delivers both oil for biofuel and protein for animal nutrition while also enhancing the soil its grown in.

“We are excited about the potential of the crop in Australia and look forward to working with local farmers and Qantas to develop a clean energy source for the local aviation industry.”

Each batch of biofuel is tested prior to delivery to ensure it meets the fuel specifications (ASTM D7566 and ASTM D1655). Under these specifications, a maximum of 50% biofuel is permitted.

Qantas said that the biofuel is chemically the same as conventional jet fuel so there are no long term effects on the engines.

Carinata seed and oil is grown, harvested and crushed in the exact same way as canola. The oil was refined at an Altair Fuels biorefinery in Los Angeles, which uses Honeywell UOP refining technology and is very similar to conventional oil refineries. The Altair refinery is a re-purposed crude oil refinery.

January 29, 2016

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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