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Qantas and Shell biofuel report finds Australian aviation biofuel industry technically viable, but challenged

An Australian aviation biofuel industry is technically viable but significant obstacles remain, according to a report released by Qantas and Shell today. The study, conducted with the support of the Australian Government through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), is the most comprehensive investigation so far into the economic viability of producing biofuel on a commercial scale in Australia.

Identifying natural oils as a proven source material, the study modelled a plant capable of producing 1.1 billion liters (291 million gallons US) of renewable fuels, including jet fuel and diesel, per year using existing supply chain infrastructure.

It found that such a plant could be viable if three key priorities are addressed.

  1. Feedstock. The volume of natural oil feedstocks available at a competitive price in Australia is not sufficient to power a commercial scale biofuel plant. This volume and price gap has potential to be filled by increased investment, research and development in production of emerging feedstocks such as algae and pongamia.

  2. Infrastructure. While existing brownfield refining locations could be used for producing aviation biofuel, new infrastructure would be required, with associated capital costs.

  3. Policy. Extending biodiesel production grants that currently apply to biodiesel to bio-jet fuel would go a long way to making a commercial plant viable.

The Qantas-Shell study looked only at certified biofuel production methods already approved for use in commercial aviation, and which meet strict operational and environmental criteria.

As well as natural oil-based fuel production pathways, Qantas worked directly with Solena Fuels to assess the opportunities around a waste-based pathway, which shows promise but also faces commercial challenges.

In addition to Qantas and Shell, a number of other companies with relevant expertise took part, including Sinclair Knight Merz, SkyNRG, AltAir Fuels, Solena Fuels and the Australian Research Council.

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