AIBN PhD student, Tim Brennan
Ground-breaking Australian research on the viability of aviation biofuels has today been released, at the culmination of almost three years of work by The University of Queensland, James Cook University, The Boeing Company, Virgin Australia, Mackay Sugar and IOR Energy.
The results of the unique study as part of the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative have been published in the international journal Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining and were presented at the Boeing-hosted Aero Environment Summit in Sydney.
Researchers at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, based at The University of Queensland, looked at the engineering and associated financial viability of biofuel production.
The work involved detailed techno-economic modelling of the processes to convert three feedstocks – sucrose from sugar cane; microalgae; and oily seeds from a tree called Pongamia – to produce a minimum selling price for aviation biofuel.
The results showed that using current proven technologies, the biofuels would be economically competitive with crude oil at a price per barrel of $301 (sugarcane), $374 (Pongamia seeds) and $1,343 (microalgae).
While the research showed biofuel processes still require research and innovation to become economically viable for use in jets compared to existing fuels, the aim was to identify research priorities that will have the largest impact on lowering the price. These priorities include:
- delivering higher fermentation yields in the sucrose process;
- producing Pongamia seeds with a higher oil content; and
- developing cheaper and more effective microalgae harvesting technologies.
The results showed that implementing these technological improvements could lower the price to $168 (sugarcane), $255 (Pongamia seeds) and $385 (algae).
Virgin Australia Group Executive of People Culture and Sustainability, Geraldine Chin Moody, said: “This research is a major step forward in understanding the unique feedstock opportunities in Queensland and how they might be commercialised in the future.”
“The commercialisation of biofuel is a key priority for Virgin Australia and we look forward to continuing to work together with our partners to enable a strong and viable biofuel industry in Queensland.”
Michael Edwards, general manager of Boeing Research & Technology-Australia said: “This Australian research is an important part of Boeing’s global commitment to supporting research into sustainable aviation biofuels.”
“We’ve proven that aircraft can fly on biofuels.
“The next step is establishing the commercial and sustainable biofuels industries needed to take biofuels flights from demonstration to reality.”
Queensland Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts Ian Walker praised the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative for its pioneering work.
“The complex process involved in making a high-standard commercially viable fuel for a jet engine is a significant challenge,” Mr Walker said.
“The knowledge our scientists have gained will help with future research and also helps us understand what is required to develop a future advanced biofuels industry in Queensland.”
Success in making biofuels viable would allow the Australian agricultural industries to diversify their product portfolios, with the potential for new manufacturing plants in rural areas such as North Queensland.