Jumping for joy for Qantas biofuel powered aircraft

October 14, 2017 |

In Australia, Qantas will buy eight million gallons of renewable jet fuel each year from U.S. based bio-energy company, SG Preston, in order to fuel its Los Angeles based aircraft. Their goal is to have the LAX to Australia flight powered on an ongoing basis by 50% non-food plant based biofuel and 50% traditional jet fuel starting in 2020.

Randy Delbert LeTang, SG Preston CEO told the Digest, “SG Preston is excited to consummate this strategic partnership with Qantas as continued validation that our customer-centric renewable fuels offering presents the right fit at the right time for global customers. For Qantas to entrust SG Preston with supplying this critical fuel at one of its crown jewel locations is a significant confirmation of their trust in our capability to deliver on our integrated promise; a trust we intend to reward with performance.”

When asked if all the biofuel will be coming from SG Preston, a Qantas spokesperson told the Digest, “We have the opportunity to purchase biofuel from SG Preston to help supply our U.S. fleet where we have a large fuel demand.  Our agreement at LAX is for 10 years and we have the option to negotiate further supply with SG Preston at LAX and other U.S. ports, subject to availability.”

The Why?

The Qantas news is quite exciting as the airline tries to curb GHG emissions that the aviation industry often gets attacked for. According to Qantas’ press release, compared to standard jet fuel, the biofuel emits half the amount of carbon emissions per gallon over its life cycle.

The move comes after Qantas’ successful domestic biofuel trial flights in 2012. CEO of Qantas International and Freight, Gareth Evans said the commercial biofuel agreement is the first of its kind in Australian aviation history.

Evans said in the press release, “The partnership with SG Preston is part of our commitment to lowering carbon emissions across our operations and sees us becoming the first Australian airline to use renewable jet fuel on an ongoing basis.”

Why is Qantas looking at biofuels as the way of the future for their airline? They have vision and they get it. They understand things need to change in the aviation industry to help curb GHG emissions and with new technologies and capabilities abounding, there is no excuse to not do it.

“As an airline group we are constantly looking for ways to become more fuel efficient and embrace new technologies and this partnership is a significant step on that journey,” said Evans. “Our agreement with SG Preston allows us to secure a supply for our Los Angeles based aircraft where we have a large fuel demand and where the biofuel industry is more advanced.”

The Who?

And a more advanced biofuel industry it is, with Philadelphia-based SG Preston just the right biofuel producer to handle it for Qantas. For starters, SG Preston’s biofuel is produced from renewable plant oils, which do not compete with food production and which meet Qantas’ stringent sustainability certification requirements. Ok, so lots of biofuel producers can say that with the plethora of new non-food feedstocks around today. But SG Preston doesn’t want to just provide renewable fuels…they want to provide “premium additive blends for jet and diesel fuel”. Back in 2016, they had a planned portfolio of 120 million gallons renewable diesel and jet facilities, so getting to the eight million gallons for Qantas shouldn’t be a problem at all for them.

In fact, when asked how they are progressing on that planned portfolio, LeTang told the Digest, “We have always discussed the development of a portfolio of commercial-scale Renewable Jet and Diesel facilities. That plan is well underway. SG Preston is interested in meeting the challenge of developing commercial-scale volume to meet the global demand from industry.”

What’s even more impressive is SG Preston’s work in recent years across the U.S. and specifically with other airlines that make it such a good fit for Qantas. As reported in the Digest in September 2016, JetBlue announced a ten-year, 330 million gallon renewable jet fuel purchase agreement with SG Preston. This marked one of the largest renewable jet fuel purchase agreements in aviation history, and the largest, long-term, binding commitment by any airline globally for HEFA (hydro-processed esters and fatty acids) based renewable jet fuel.

The first deliveries for JetBlue are scheduled for 2019. The fuel will consist of 30 percent renewable jet fuel blended with 70 percent traditional Jet-A fuel. The renewable jet fuel portion produced from select plant oils is targeted to achieve a 50% or higher reduction in greenhouse gases emissions per gallon based on a life-cycle analysis. The fuel is expected to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) qualification for renewable fuel standards. So, overall, 10 million gallons of pure biofuels content per year, and 100 million gallons over the lifetime of the agreement.

JetBlue is currently progressing forward and working through the process with the intent of supplying New York-metropolitan area airports with renewable jet fuel. In its blended form, the total amount of renewable jet fuel JetBlue will purchase equals approximately 20 percent of its annual fuel consumption at New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

Check out the Digest’s Multi-Slide Guide to SG Preston.

Michael Gill, Director of Environment for IATA, was also pretty excited about the Qantas news and said “IATA congratulates Qantas and SG Preston on this landmark agreement, being the first commercial biofuel offtake for an Australian airline. Deals such as these are critical to the development of an aviation biofuel sector globally and the achievement of the aviation industry’s climate goals.”

The What Now?

So we’ve covered what Qantas’ plans are with SG Preston’s biofuel and the LAX to Australia flight plans. But there may be more to it as CEO of Qantas International and Freight, Gareth Evans hinted at something more and said “Through our biofuel program we are also exploring renewable jet fuel opportunities in Australia and continue to work with suppliers to develop locally produced biofuels for aviation use.”

When the Digest asked a Qantas spokesperson about those plans in Australia, they told the Digest, “There isn’t yet an aviation biofuel industry in Australia so as Australia’s largest airline, we are committed to helping facilitate one. To do that we need to work closely with local suppliers and help find ways that offer volumes that are sustainable over the long term.” What exactly those opportunities in Australia might be – what feedstocks, what facilities, what companies, technologies, and producers will be involved – we aren’t sure, but we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground.

We don’t like to say “we told you so,” but we really did. How did we know SG Preston would be producing millions of gallons of renewable jet fuel by 2020? CEO Randy LeTang told The Digest back in October 2015 that “While we do not publicly comment on our development or activation timelines, suffice it to say that we have developed a system that will allow for the delivery of renewable diesel and jet fuel, in volume, well before 2020.” He had quite a long-term plan and vision too, and said that the initial project is “part of a larger vision of partnering with leading, global refining technology partners and local communities to develop a portfolio of renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel refineries targeting 1.2 billion gallons per year, or 20% of the federal RFS2 biomass-based mandate for biofuels.”

What does LeTang have to say now, a few years later with this new Qantas deal? While we are sure he is jumping for joy and ecstatic about yet another airline deal for their biofuel, LeTang told the Digest they are also having “ongoing discussions with various, global potential clients for the long-term purchase of its advanced biofuels and renewable products. As more companies committed to sustainability understand that we are firmly committed to the execution of our business, we expect that the conversations and commitments will grow in size.”

No matter how you slice it, we predict more exciting news and jumping for joy for both SG Preston and Qantas with their solid commitment to biofuels and a more sustainable future.

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