Case Study

Virgin Australia helps pioneer biofuel research

Environmental Sustainable fuels

By 2050, up to 40% of all aviation fuel sources at airports in Australia and New Zealand could be based on biofuels refined from renewable local resources, according to a development plan drawn up by the Australian chapter of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (ASAFUG). Published in May 2011, the roadmap suggests that a fuel share of 5% for bio-derived jet fuel in the two nations could be possible as early as 2020.

One of the founder members of this group is Virgin Australia, which is working with national and state governments to encourage funding of the essential research to address the issues surrounding scale-up from pilot to production quantities of fuel. Among the projects in which Virgin Australia has invested is an in-depth analysis by the University of Queensland on the potential for a local sustainable industry developing fuel from three distinct biomass sources; algae, pongamia (a species of legume currently found only in Papua New Guinea and threatened by habitat loss) and sugar cane.

Virgin Australia has been working to develop a biofuel using a pyrolysis process from a feedstock of mallees, a native eucalypt tree that can be grown sustainably in many parts of Australia. The airline also has a Memorandum of Understanding with Australian biofuel company Licella, which has invested in developing a potential breakthrough technology that converts waste into aviation fuel. The Licella solution cuts through many of the complexities of current alternatives and proposes a single-step process, converting woody waste into high quality bio-crude oil, resulting in a cleaner, faster and much more cost-effective procedure.