Overview

The ultimate goal of the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative is to help enable construction and operation of a sustainable biofuel manufacturing facility in Queensland. The project started in 2010 at The University of Queensland and a second project is now evaluating the specific business case for a biofuel production plant in Mackay.

Background

The Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative was born out of an aviation industry desire for genuinely sustainable aviation fuels that will match current performance standards. The initiative was established through a Queensland Government National and International Research Alliances Program grant that brought together a consortium of university biofuel experts and industry for the AU$6.5 million first stage of the program. The second phase to evaluate the business case is funded through the Queensland Government’s Research Partnerships Program.

Research and industry partners

Hosted at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at The University of Queensland, the initiative involves partnerships with the Institute of Molecular Biosciences, the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, and the Centre of Excellence for Integrative Legume Research at UQ; James Cook University; and leading companies Boeing, Virgin Australia, Mackay Sugar Limited, General Electric, IOR Energy and the US biotech Amyris.

  • AIBN has led the development of detailed, open and transparent techno-economic engineering models that evaluate the production of biofuels from three different biomass sources (sucrose from sugar cane; oil from the seeds of the Pongamia tree; and autotrophic microalgae). The results have been published in a leading international journal and will inform researchers and other community stakeholders. The results suggest where future research and development would have the greatest impact on the feasibility and lowering the cost of biofuel production.
  • Boeing has performed detailed lifecycle analyses on the production of biofuel from the three feed stocks to evaluate sustainability.
  • A wiki website is providing a forum to disseminate all of the results and for interactive feedback, review, updating of results and discussion. The aim of the wiki is to provide clarity and consensus on biofuel production feasibility for scientists, engineers, government and the wider community.
  •  AIBN has strong expertise in microbe engineering, and systems and synthetic biology, which are being used to develop and improve the process of converting sugarcane to aviation fuel.

The big picture

The work described above refers to the concept analysis first stage of the full project to achieve biofuel manufacture in Queensland. The following steps of the overall project are consistent with any project plan to deliver an industrial manufacturing facility.

  1. Concept analysis
  2. Business case
  3. Pre-feasibility study
  4. Feasibility study
  5. Implementation/plant construction
  6. Operations/fuel production

The overall goal is to evaluate and help enable commercial biofuel manufacture in Queensland, with demonstration levels of production within the next five years. The end users will primarily be the Australian airline industry but the fuel, in the form of biodiesel, would also have customers in agriculture, mining and transportation. Other potential end users are the US Navy and Australian Navy, who have a strong strategic relationship and a significant requirement for aviation and diesel fuel. The US Navy will sail a Great Green Fleet in 2016 and has committed to obtaining half of its energy use from alternative sources by 2020.

Current AIBN research: sugar cane conversion

The laboratory part of the project involves engineering microbes to improve fuel production from sucrose. Initial modelling has shown this route to be the most advanced of the three biomass sources under consideration and feeds into an established Queensland industry with existing capital and infrastructure. AIBN expertise is in engineering microbes to convert carbon from sucrose to produce chemical compounds which can be used as aviation fuel molecules. It is important that the performance of these molecules in the sustainable aviation fuels match those presently used in aircraft. Matching the physical and/or chemical make-up of existing fuels will create a drop-in biofuel which will ensure planes and fuel distribution infrastructure does not need to be converted to accept the new fuel.

Current AIBN research: techno-economic modelling

Techno-economic models are being developed based on open and accountable information from journal reports, patents and industry to answer important questions about the process of manufacturing sustainable aviation fuels from the three feed stocks. The models deliver averaged cost estimates for fuel production; identify the process bottlenecks; and identify where research should be focused to achieve the highest impact on cost reduction towards viable industrial production.

A wiki website is providing a forum to disseminate the results and for interactive feedback, review, discussion and the updating of results. The aim of the wiki is also to provide clarity and consensus on biofuel production feasibility for scientists, engineers, government and the wider community.

Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative section

QSAFI News

All the latest news on the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative project.

Useful QSAFI and Biofuel Links

Links to partners' websites, biofuel information and more.

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