Jets Fuelled by Trees
Aircraft powered by biofuel made from Australian mallee trees is not only possible, but could be sustainable and give a boost to potential new regional industries, according to a report published today by the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Centre (CRC).
The mallee jet fuel sustainability and life-cycle assessment report - produced with funding from Airbus and support from industry partners Virgin Australia, Renewable Oil Corporation, Dynamotive and IFPEN - provides enough evidence to support continued R&D on mallee production and bio-oil upgrading, and to inform the business case for commercial production starting in Western Australia (WA).
The report was launched during the CRC Association conference in Perth with key airline representatives present, including Airbus New Energies Programme Manager Frédéric Eychenne, and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines Group Executive Merren McArthur.
Speaking at the launch, CRC Research Director Dr John McGrath said the mallee jet fuel project looked at the Great Southern region of WA as a case study, examining the potential of a complete industry supply chain from grower to aviation user.
“We already know that mallee growing integrates well with farm crop and livestock operations and can benefit natural resources in a number of ways, such as protecting and enhancing biodiversity, and contributing to rebalancing water tables. 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 McGrath.
“The scenario tested was based on what we know from existing plantings, and indicates that mallees could occupy up to six per cent of paddocks, or about one per cent of the Great Southern region.
The proposed mallee-based biofuels industry – including harvesting, transport and production – could provide employment for 40 people and bring about $30 million per year with the first regional plant.
The life-cycle carbon emissions analysis estimated jet flights leaving Perth Airport powered by 100 per cent mallee jet fuel sourced from Great Southern region farms could emit 40 per cent less greenhouse gases compared to those using petroleum-based jet fuel.
Great Southern farmers growing mallees on marginal cropping soils will benefit from higher profits and more uniform income, offsetting variable crop income.
Importantly, integrated trees only cover a small part of the landscape so mallees grown for jet fuel would not significantly displace food crops. As it is a ‘second-generation’ biofuel coming from a woody source and not food crop, it does not compete directly with food supplies.
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.