A two year study commissioned by Airbus and partners including Virgin Australia in 2012 into the practicability of using Australia's mallee trees to make biofuels suitable for powering passenger jets has reported encouraging results.
The report published by the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Centre (CRC) concludes that jet fuel made from the mallee tree will meet strict sustainability criteria determined by the Roundtable for Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) and will be suitable for commercial flights according to the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
The sustainability and life-cycle analysis covered the growing and harvesting of the mallee tree and its conversion into aviation grade biofuel via the pyrolysis thermal and upgrading processes developed by Dynamotive and IFP Energies nouvelles (IFPEN). Mallee trees flourish in regions of poor soil and do not directly compete for water nor with food production. The vast Great Southern region of Western Australia was used in the study, which included examining the viability of a complete industry supply chain from grower to aviation user.
“What this report demonstrates is that mallees can provide a future economic benefit to farmers and regional communities, with a viable industry possible by 2021 said Dr John McGrath, CRC Research Director. “Mallee integrates well with farm crop and livestock operations and can protect and enhance biodiversity, and contributing to rebalancing water tables.”
The study shows that if all flights departing Perth airport were powered by locally sourced mallee biofuel, that emissions could be reduced by at least 40 per cent.
Virgin Australia Regional Airlines Group Executive, Merren McArthur, said, “Virgin Australia remains committed to supporting innovative Australian research into the feasibility of aviation biofuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. The results show mallee jet fuel is a more sustainable option than our current fossil-based fuel supply while also providing valuable insights into potential new supply chains. We look forward to supporting the project and to getting closer to the commercial supply of biofuel in Western Australia,” said Ms McArthur.
“The outcome of this report is positive and supports Airbus’ global strategy of seeking the best local solutions for the development and commercialisation of sustainable fuels for aviation. Since 2008 Airbus has been engaged in a worldwide programme to develop solutions and this report is an important step towards achieving the goals the industry has set itself for carbon neutral growth,” said Frederic Eychenne, Airbus New Energies Programme Manager.