Farm to flight – Carinata crop commercialization takes off

November 19, 2017 |

In Australia, Qantas will operate the world’s first biofuel flight between the United States and Australia early in the new year in collaboration with World Fuel Services and Altair Fuels. Qantas’ new Dreamliner is being powered by Brassica Carinata (carinata), a non-food, industrial type of mustard seed that has been around for years but is seeing increased use and viability thanks to new developments and improvements with the feedstock for biofuels, animal feed, chemicals, and other uses.

The news of the flight follows Qantas’ signing of a landmark partnership with Agrisoma Biosciences, the Canadian based agricultural-technology company who developed the carinata seed. The two organizations will work with Australian farmers to grow the country’s first commercial aviation biofuel seed crop by 2020.

“Our long-term goal with this partnership is to grow the crop at a target of 400,000 hectares which will ultimately produce more than 200 million litres of bio jet fuel for the airline,” said Steven Fabijanski, Agrisoma’s Ph.D. President and CEO.

The Digest covered Qantas’s announcement in October about their deal with U.S. based SG Preston for plant-based biofuel to power its Los Angeles based aircraft, but even then, the Digest predicted more big news was coming from Qantas. CEO of Qantas International and Freight, Gareth Evans hinted at something more and had told the Digest back in October “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 back in October, “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.”

While we didn’t know in October what exactly those opportunities in Australia might be, we now know the picture definitely includes Agrisoma and carinata oilseeds being grown locally in Australia.

Bringing carinata production to Australia

Qantas International CEO, Alison Webster said the early 2018 historic flight and the partnership mark the first step in developing an aviation biofuel supply in Australia. “We are constantly looking for ways to reduce carbon emissions across our operations but when it comes to using renewable jet fuel, until now, there has not been a locally grown option at the scale we need to power our fleet. Our work with Agrisoma will enable Australian farmers to start growing today for the country’s biofuel needs of the future. The trans-Pacific biofuel flight is a demonstration of what can be achieved locally.”

“The longer-term strategic goal of the partnership is to grow 400,000 hectares of carinata which would yield over 200 million litres of bio-jet fuel each year,” said Webster. “This will support the development of a renewable jetfuel supply and bio-refinery in Australia to power our fleet and further reduce carbon emissions across our operations.” Another part of the plan down the road is to grow seeds elsewhere around the world to support Qantas’s global travel network.

The University of Queensland field trials in Gatton, Queensland, and in Bordertown, South Australia, have demonstrated that carinata should do very well in the Australian climate. It is sown in either fallow areas where food crops fail or in between regular crop cycles, known as “cover cropping”. Rotational or break-crops improves soil quality, reduces erosion for food crops and provides farmers with additional annual income.

Agrisoma CEO, Steve Fabijanski, said carinata-based fuel offers a significant reduction in carbon emissions. “Our commercial operations in the USA, South American and Europe are certified as producing fuels with more than 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in comparison to standard petroleum based fuel,” said Mr Fabijanski. “Importantly for farmers, the crushed seed also produces a high-quality, high-protein, non-GMO meal for the Australian livestock, dairy and poultry market.”

The production of Agrisoma’s carinata is being expanded to multiple locations globally to provide a supply of sustainable, non-food oils for meeting the demand for sustainable biofuels.

Check out the Digest’s Carinata Kings Multi-Slide Guide to Agrisoma.

Carinata captivating champions around the world

Carinata hasn’t just captivated the hearts of Qantas for biofuels. Florida-based Applied Research Associates, the University of Florida and about 40 partners in the project (including Agrisoma), was awarded a $15 million USDA contract for work on a carinata-based sustainable jet fuel and bioproducts supply chain, as reported in the Digest in October. The Southeast Partnership for Advanced Renewables from Carinata (SPARC) will work on the five-year project to remove technological, economic and social barriers to the commercial development of carinata for fuels, feed and chemicals.

As reported in October in the Digest, researchers from South Dakota State University developed a means of extracting glucosinolate from the oilseed meal, which may lead to high-value uses for the chemical. The presence of glucosinolate limits the amount of camelina and carinata meal that can be incorporated into animal diets to 10 percent due to its toxicity and it’s that toxicity that researchers want to utilize—to kill fungus and weeds or even cancer cells. This is great news for carinata producers who use the feedstock for things beyond biofuels like animal feed.

Agrisoma has also been busy with UPM, as reported in the Digest in July, with a long-term supply agreement to grow carinata in South America. Under the deal, the two companies will grow Carinata oilseed crops with third-party farmers in Uruguay and Brazil. UPM was testing carinata for sequential cropping in South America. The sequential cropping concept enables contract farmers to take agricultural land into use outside the main cultivation period, in winter time, without compromising existing food production. Carinata will provide additional income to local farmers, who do not normally have their fields in productive use during winter.

“Sustainable land use is UPM’s core competence. We are developing this sequential cropping concept with Carinata as it provides new feedstock solutions for low carbon biofuels without compromising existing food production,” said Petri Kukkonen, Head of UPM Biofuels Development.

As reported in the Digest in June, carinata is a pretty impressive feedstock, producing up to 140 gallons of jet fuel per acre with some trials reaching as high as 200 gallons per acre. Carinata fuels could be eligible for support via the LCFS and the US Renewable Fuel Standard — up to $0.80 due to the LCFS and another $1.50 in advanced biofuels RINs. (Yes, advanced biofuel RINs are priced around $1.00 — but consider that jet fuels have 1.5 times the energy density of ethanol, so they get added RINs). That provides $4.00 to the value chain – growers, oil crushers and hydrotreaters.

Bottom Line

The Qantas news on choosing Agrisoma to establish an Australian-based supply chain for their carinata-based jet fuel is not just another big announcement by another big airline. It’s another move in the needle. It’s another commercialization champion moving forward to make things happen. It’s getting bio jet fuel from being a pie in the sky idea to a fly in the sky reality.

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