Some good news out of Australia as Airbus and Virgin Australia release a study looking at the possibility of using a local tree, the mallee (a type of Eucalyptus) to produce sustainable alternative fuel for aviation. In a study released today, researchers found that with the right kick-start, there is a business case for commercial production of this second-generation jet biofuel.

MalleeMallees can be grown in the areas surrounding other agriculture, providing a boost to farmers’ incomes whilst also producing the necessary feedstock for new energy fuels. As a bonus, planting the trees between fields and along borders also enhances biodiversity and helps to rebalance water tables.

It is estimated that, when harvesting, refining and transporting this fuel, there will be a lifecycle CO2 reduction of around 40% compared to using traditional jet fuel – so there is not as much reduction as some of the other renewable fuel sources the industry is looking at, but reducing CO2 by 40% is still an impressive step. Importantly, the study also finds that the cost of the fuel could be comparable with fossil jet fuel around 2021 which makes the business case a good one.

One of the great things about using alternative fuels for air transport is that we fly aircraft all over the world. If we can take advantage of the best local solutions to producing alternative fuels, we can simply use them at local airports. This study provides a great example of that – showing that mallees grown in West Australia could power flights out of Perth Airport – and provides an incentive to continue research in this area in Australia.