Qantas has announced the launch of a feasibility study, backed by the government, into the potential for a sustainable aviation fuel industry in Australia. The initiative is to give the sector’s green efforts a boost at a time when climate change is high on the radar of world issues and nations are pushing for a global carbon emissions reduction programme. It is expected to be a direction preferred by the aviation industry as it has been vehemently opposing the more unilateral measure of European Union Emissions Trading System.

The study will look at the “conditions needed for the production of aviation biofuel from sustainable sources.”

Chief executive of the carrier, Alan Joyce, said: “Alternatives to conventional jet fuel are vital to the aviation industry meeting ambitious targets for carbon-neutral growth and emissions reductions.

“Australia has the skills, resources and infrastructure to take a lead in this emerging sector, which the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has estimated could generate up to 12,000 jobs over the next 20 years.”

The Australian Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, Martin Furguson, expressed the government’s support for the study ahead of the carrier’s first flight using sustainable fuel derived from recycled cooking oil (see story here).

Concern for the industry’s carbon footprint is also high on the agenda of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and several airlines around the world such as air New Zealand, Lufthansa and Japan Airlines, pushing them to experiment with biofuels and other green methods to lower their environmental impact (see story here and for more on what else airlines are doing to go green, read the feature that appeared in the Business Traveller January 2011 issue here). Biofuels also provide airlines with a hopeful and convenient alternative to volatile oil prices that inevitably eat away at profit margins.

However, as heartening as the concept is, such alternatives are still at preliminary stages of development and the cost of using biofuels remains high as it involves the use of various feedstocks. “Until sustainable aviation fuel is produced commercially at a price competitive with conventional jet fuel, we will not be able to realise its true benefits. This study aims to tell us how that can be achieved in Australia,” said Joyce.

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Alisha Haridasani