Seeds of change: Qantas reveals blue sky plans to switch fleet to biofuels

Qantas could be flying on mustard seeds if COVID-19 cutbacks don’t get in the way of the airline’s plans to convert the majority of its annual $4.6 billion jet fuel spend to sustainable aviation fuel.

Aug 03, 2020, updated Aug 03, 2020
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce (Photo: ABC News, Tom Hancock)

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce (Photo: ABC News, Tom Hancock)

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who has committed to remain at the helm of the iconic carrier until 2022, said Qantas aimed to get to 10 per cent in sustainable aviation fuel within the decade and 60-70 per cent by 2050.

Speaking passionately about corporate Australia’s responsibility to act on environmental and social issues, Joyce told the first of a new Griffith University conversation series at HOTA on the Gold Coast that Qantas expected to reach its carbon emission targets despite the drastic impacts of COVID-19.

“I’m a believer in man-impacted climate change and I believe we all need to do something to fix that,” Joyce told host and interviewer Kerry O’Brien.

“I think everybody has to be socially and environmentally conscious. It’s what our shareholders are looking for, it’s what our customers are looking for, it’s what our employees are looking for.

“We have to do our fair share to minimise our impact on the environment so we can protect what actually generates our business.”

Qantas achieved the world’s first flight partly powered by mustard seeds in 2018 when it flew a Boeing Dreamliner 787-9 passenger flight between Australia and the United States.

The 15-hour flight used a blended fuel that was 10 per cent derived from a type of mustard seed and reduced carbon emissions by 7 per cent. Joyce said the airline’s focus on sustainable fuels was an advanced prong of its efforts to cut carbon emissions.

He said the lack of developments in other alternative technology, including battery power, meant biofuel substitutes were the most likely substitute to regular jet fuel, which could spawn new industry and new jobs in Australia.

“To give you an example, Melbourne to Sydney would need 32 times the weight of the fuel in batteries to fly. So, we’re a long way away from that technology working,” he said.

“What we are trying to do with sustainable aviation fuel is to get to produce a crop that doesn’t have unintended consequences, like taking away from food stocks or increasing prices for everybody because airlines are buying it.

“If we could create that as an industry here in Australia, where we are growing crops as rotation, giving the money to the farmers, then having plants to produce and convert those crops into sustainable aviation fuel, that all creates jobs and a significant amount of jobs,” Joyce said.

Joyce said before COVID-19 hit, forcing the airline to cut 6,000 jobs and stand down a further 15,000 employees, Qantas had committed to environmental measures including eliminating single-use plastics by the end of the year.

He said Qantas would achieve its target and would get rid of 100 million single-use plastics before 2021.

He said Qantas and the aviation industry had also committed to a price on carbon from 2022.

Replacing the fleet of Boeing 747s with new more fuel-efficient 787s would reduce emissions by 20 per cent, he said.

Last month Qantas farewelled its last Boeing 747, when Qantas flight QF7474 took off from Sydney Airport bound for Los Angeles shortly before 3.30pm on July 22, ending almost half a century of history with the aircraft.

“Aviation is only industry in the world that has given itself targets that it will get to. The industry as a whole wants half of the CO2 emissions by 2050 that it had in 2005,” he said.

“But I think every company could do more.”

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas

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