Qantas Completes 8,000-Mile Flight on Renewable Jet Fuel

Qantas renewable jet fuel
Qantas flight November 2017. Credit: Mertie, Flickr Creative Commons

Qantas Airlines flew from Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia on a renewable jet fuel engineered from mustard seeds, according to Honeywell UOP. This 8,077-mile flight was the first between the two countries to use Honeywell Green Jet Fuel.

The fuel is produced by taking carinata seeds — a type of non-edible industrial mustard — engineered by the company Agrisoma Biosciences. Then the seeds get pressed to yield half their weight in oils that Paramount, California-based AltAir refined into jet fuel using Honeywell’s process. The renewable jet fuel can then replace up to half the petroleum jet fuel for a flight.

“Depending on the feedstock, this fuel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 to 85% versus petroleum jet fuel,” according to Dave Cepla, senior director of Honeywell UOP’s Renewable Energy and Chemicals business.

Besides putting the fuel to the test, Qantas has a partnership with Agrisoma to encourage carinata seed production in Australia as a renewable feedstock for aviation biofuel, Honeywell reported. Harvest on that is expected to happen in 2020.

The aviation industry continues looking to biofuels as a way to help reduce carbon emissions. In 2016, JetBlue announced that the airline would purchase 330 million gallons of renewable jet fuel over the next 10 years. Last spring Singapore Airlines introduced flights on its nonstop route to San Francisco powered in part by biofuels derived from cooking oil. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways also expressed support for the use of biofuels. British Airways formed a partnership last fall with renewable fuels company Velocys to develop long-term fuel options for its fleet.

A decade ago, the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group was formed to accelerate the development and commercialization of sustainable aviation biofuels. Qantas, British Airways, JetBlue, Singapore Airlines, and Cathay Airlines are all among its committed members. However, the industry still primarily uses petroleum jet fuel. KUOW’s John Ryan recently looked at efforts by officials at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to eliminate the emissions without limiting the airport’s growing business. One of the main challenges is around the price of fuel.

“We do have this current headwind in that jet fuel is very inexpensive right now,” Daniel Rutherford, a program director with the International Council for Clean Transportation told Ryan. “As long as fuel continues to be this cheap, we wouldn’t expect the manufacturers to be very ambitious on fuel efficiency.”

The airline fleet is getting more efficient each year, but air travel is growing three times faster, Ryan pointed out. When it comes to using significantly more biofuel and slashing emissions, the industry appears to be stuck at the gate.

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