World’s first US-Australia bio-fuel flight announced

21 November 2017
Crops of Brassica carinata being trialed on UQ’s Gatton campus.
Crops of Brassica carinata being trialed on UQ’s Gatton campus.

Australian airline Qantas has announced the world’s first biofuel flight between the United States and Australia, with University of Queensland researchers helping to provide the fuel.

The Los Angeles to Melbourne flight will take place early next year and the plane will be powered by Brassica carinata (carinata), a non-food, industrial type of mustard seed – fields of which are being trialed on UQ’s Gatton campus.

Faculty of Science researcher Dr Anthony van Herwaarden leads the seed crop trials in collaboration with Agrisoma BioSciences (Agrisoma), a Canadian-based agricultural technology company who are partnering with Qantas.

“The 2017 trials in Queensland and South Australia demonstrated that carinata can be grown successfully in Australia,” Dr van Herwaarden said.

“Expanding the trials in 2018 will begin the scale-up process to commercial production in the years ahead.”

Carinata produces high quality oil, ideal for aviation biofuel, biojet fuel for aircraft and biodiesel for airport vehicles.

It is a ‘drop-in’ crop and requires no specialised production or processing techniques.

Carinata is water efficient and field trials have demonstrated it should do very well in the Australian climate.

“This is not only exciting news for the Australian aviation industry, but the introduction of a break crop into the drier and hotter areas of the Australian wheat belt offers financial benefits to farmers also,” Dr van Herwaarden said.

Brassica break crops are capable of biofumigation which reduces soil-borne disease, improves soil quality, can reduce erosion and increases the yield of the subsequent crop.

Qantas and Agrisoma will work with Australian farmers to grow the country’s first commercial aviation biofuel seed crop in the near future.

Qantas International CEO Alison Webster said the historic flight and the partnership mark the first step in developing an aviation biofuel supply in Australia.

“We are constantly looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions across our operations but when it comes to using renewable jet fuel, until now, there has not been a locally grown option at the scale we need to power our fleet,” she said.

“Our work with Agrisoma will enable Australian farmers to start growing today for the country’s biofuel needs of the future.

“The trans-Pacific biofuel flight is a demonstration of what can be achieved locally.”

Agrisoma CEO Steve Fabijanski, said carinata-based fuel offers a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

“Our commercial operations in the United States, South America and Europe are certified as producing fuels with more than 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in comparison to standard petroleum-based fuel,” he said.

“Importantly for farmers, the crushed seed also produces a high-quality, high-protein, non-GMO meal for the Australian livestock, dairy and poultry market.”

The Australian field trials were conducted with UQ’s Dr Christopher Lambrides, University of Melbourne Associate Professor Phillip Salisbury and Trent Potter of Yeruga Crop Research.

Media: Dr Anthony van Herwaarden, a.vanherwaarden@uq.edu.au, 0438 983 227; Qantas’ Ingrid Just, ingrid.just@qantas.com.au, 0477 355 600.

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