Virgin Australia is going to experiment with biofuels on flights out of Brisbane

Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti. Photo: Paul Kane/ Getty Images.

Virgin Australia will run a two-year trial mixing biojet fuels with regular avgas on flights out of Brisbane in a move the challenger airline is claiming as a world first.

US-based renewable fuel producer Gevo Inc will supply the biojet, through Brisbane Airport’s fuel supply system, where it will be mixed with traditional jet fuel and supplied on flights departing Brisbane in a two-year trial that will begin before Christmas.

Virgin Australia Group will coordinate the purchase, supply and blending of the fuels working with the Queensland government, Brisbane Airport Corporation Gevo Inc and others in a bid to lower the company’s carbon emissions. The airline says it’s the first time in the world that biojet produced using the alcohol-to-jet process will be supplied to an airport’s regular fuel supply system.

Biojet is made from a range of plant-based materials such as sugarcane bagasse, molasses, wood waste and agave, and has the potential to be produced in Australia. The first aviation biojet fuels were approved for commercial flights in 2011.

It is already used at major airports in Oslo and Los Angeles, including for Virgin services between LA and Australia’s east coast.

Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti said the Brisbane trial was crucial for testing the fuel supply chain infrastructure in Australia.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk hopes that it will be the beginning of a local biojet production industry.

“Although there is currently no commercial production of biojet in Queensland, we would expect the success of this project to see demand for fuel grow and provide significant opportunities for local biojet production here at home,” she said.

“The opportunity will also translate to our sugarcane industry, who will provide the lion’s share of the biomass these refineries would need.”

Initial supplies will come from Gevo’s hydrocarbon plant in Texas, derived from isobutanol produced in Minnesota, but the company’s CEO, Dr Patrick Gruber, said Queensland has “huge potential for low-cost sugar feedstocks to produce biofuels”.

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