Fuel Made From Australian Mallee Trees Could Be Powering Aircraft By 2021

Mallee tree belts on a wheat farm in Western Australian. Image: Cliff Winfield

Aircraft powered by biofuel made from Australian mallee trees could be a sustainable new regional industry, according to a report published today by the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Centre.

A biofuel proving project has been funded by Airbus and supported by industry partners Virgin Australia, Renewable Oil Corporation, Dynamotive and the research centre IFPEN.

The report by the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Centre on mallee jet fuel sustainability provides enough evidence to support continued research on mallee production and bio-oil upgrading, and to build a business case for commercial production starting in Western Australia.

The report was launched during the Future Farm Industries Cooperative Association conference in Perth with key airline representatives including Airbus New Energies Programme Manager Frederic Eychenn and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines CEO Merren McArthur.

Research Director Dr John McGrath says 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,” he says.

“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.”

From existing plantings, mallees could occupy up to 6% of paddocks, or about 1% of the Great Southern region. The proposed mallee-based biofuels industry 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% mallee jet fuel sourced from Great Southern region farms could emit 40% less greenhouse gases compared to those using petroleum-based jet fuel.

Here’s what the financials look like:

In the eight years from 2013 the leading producers of biojet could reduce its cost from the current $1.70/litre to a range of $0.80 to $1.10/litre, and the price of petroleum-based jet fuel could increase from $0.80/litre to $1.50/litre with rising oil prices.

When biojet is competitive with fossil jet fuel the mallee biojet supply will be profitable and the biomass price offered to farmers will be attractive enough to see as much as 500,000 hectares planted to mallee belts across Australia. This would supply 5% of Australia’s aviation fuel.

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