Qantas debuts mustard seed biofuel in Australia-US flight

2 Feb 2018 | John McGarrity

The world’s first dedicated biofueled flight between Australia and the US took off on 30 January, using a 10% mix of non-edible mustard seeds, part of a wider initiative to grow the country’s first commercial aviation biofuel seed crop by 2020.

The 15-hour flight on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner from Melbourne to Los Angeles, operated by Qantas, was powered with approximately 24,000kg of blended biofuel. This saved 18,000kg in carbon emissions, the Australian airline said in a press release.

Qantas will use biofuel processed from a non-food, industrial type of mustard seed, which is being grown by Montreal-based agritech company Agrisoma Biosciences.

Scientists say carinata is a hardy crop that is more drought and tolerant of cold weather than rapeseed, making it a good choice for producers in many areas of the US who want to rotate crops during the winter months.

Carinata has a longer carbon chain fatty acid profile than canola, and improves efficiencies in fuel conversion processes, said Steven Fabijanski, Agrisoma’s CEO.

Agrisoma has around 56,000 acres (22,662 hectares) of land in the southeastern US, Uruguay and Australia in production for carinata, a figure that the company aims to double each year, Fabijanski added.

“Carinata has the potential to supply a third of the feedstock forecast for demand in aviation jetfuels,” said the Agrisoma CEO, adding that the company is seeking a mandate for the crop’s use through the CORSIA aviation carbon reduction scheme.

GHG reductions
The Canadian company says that used across its lifecycle, carinata-derived biofuel can reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared with traditional jet fuel.

Because it is a non-food crop that is planted on fallow land, Agrisoma says it scores highly in terms of avoiding emissions from land use change, a metric that often impacts the attractiveness of particular crops in alternative jet fuels.

Residues from the crop can also be used in animal feed, providing a further income stream for farmers.

The 10% biofuel blend used on the 30 January flight enabled a 7% percent reduction in emissions on the route compared with normal operations, Qantas said.

To the refineries’ taste
AltAir Fuels in the US, World Fuel Services in Australia and Finland’s Neste are all using the non-edible mustard seed in aviation biofuels, and the crop can also be used a feedstock in biodiesel.

The airline is under pressure to decrease the amount of fossil fuel it burns in light of a report released earlier this month by the International Council on Clean Transportation, which found that Qantas scored the worst in terms of CO2 emissions among operators of flights over the Pacific.

The Dreamliner aside, the report highlighted that Qantas operates some of the least fuel efficient aircraft in the region and its rating is impacted by the high proportion of empty seats on passenger flights and the large share of freight in its overall flights.