Farmers help biofuels take flight

Airlines around the world are making the switch to biofuels, with a little help from Australian carinata farmers.

Carinata is a non-food, industrial type of mustard seed developed in Canada and perfectly suited to Australia’s climate.

Across its lifecycle, using carinata-derived biofuels can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 per cent compared to traditional jet fuel.

In January 2018, Qantas made the world’s first dedicated biofuel flight between Los Angeles in the USA and Melbourne, Australia. The 15 hour flight saved 18,000kg in carbon emissions.

Virgin Australia has also conducted a biofuel trial from Brisbane Airport where 195 biofuel-powered flights have operated, domestically and internationally, between 2017 and 2018.

Biofuels are now a regular occurrence in Australian and international aviation and according to Virgin Australia it’s “a step forward in reducing carbon emissions globally”.

According to Bioenergy Australia’s CEO Shahana McKenzie, the bioeconomy will provide job opportunities in regional areas, while meeting consumer demand for more sustainable fuels.

“This supports a transition to a low‑carbon economy through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and results in a range of positive environmental and social impacts by alleviating demand for petroleum‑based fuels,” she said.

Carinata production complements existing agricultural practices and utilises the same machinery as growing and harvesting wheat and canola crops.

The seed is planted in the off-seasons (rotational cropping) providing supplementary income, reducing erosion and conserving soil nutrients.

After harvesting, the carinata seeds are crushed to extract their oil and the meal is used as animal feed. The seed is then transported to a biorefinery to be processed to meet aviation safety and performance standards.

It is expected that by 2020 Australia will have its own dedicated commercial aviation biofuel seed crop.

Field of golden canola crops north of Benalla in north-eastern Victoria, Australia

Of course, bioethanol is already increasingly common – with a number of sources, including molasses (a by-product from raw sugar cane production), waste from starch production, and red sorghum.

Biodiesel in Australia is mainly produced from animal fats (tallow) and recycled greases such as waste cooking oil, although vegetable oil, poppy seed oil and palm oil have also been used.

Renewable diesel is derived from the same lipid feedstocks, but unlike biodiesel it is chemically almost identical to petroleum-derived diesel and can be substituted one-for-one with petroleum diesel without engine modification.

However, Australia is lagging behind in comparison to the rest of the world in bioenergy with Brazil powering their country with 30 per cent bioenergy while Australia is less than five per cent.

The National Farmers’ Federation has a target of 50 per cent renewable farm energy by 2030. Achieving that outcome will require significant investment and policy action. To learn more, see the NFF’s 2030 Roadmap.

Source: The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF)'
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