Sugarcane – the solution to air travel’s emissions problem

Sugarcane – the solution to air travel’s emissions problem

Most people are aware of the Australian Government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 43 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

What they may not know is that with just seven years to go, we are only halfway towards reaching that target.

The latest figures from the government’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory reveal that emissions for 2022, up to the September quarter, were only 21 percent below 2005 levels.

Much of that progress has been achieved through the phasing out of coal powered energy and an increase in renewables. Other sectors, such as agriculture, have also played their part by reducing emissions.

However, there are some sectors where emissions have continued to rise, most notably transport, and in particular, the aviation industry.

With more than 1500 domestic flights in Australia every day, the aviation industry burns through an awful lot of highly polluting jet fuel.

So, what’s the solution? Will we be forced to stop travelling for work or pleasure?

Or is there an alternative to jet fuel that can reduce the aviation industry’s carbon footprint without sacrificing our desire to travel?

Thankfully, there is – sustainable aviation fuel, which can be sourced from our industry!

For years we’ve known that sugarcane and its derivatives could be used to produce Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), just as it is used to produce ethanol.

However, just as calls to increase the ethanol mandate have gone unheeded, there has never been a serious political or commercial interest in creating a Sustainable Aviation Fuel industry in Queensland – until now.

The State Government is finally getting serious about turning Queensland into the nation’s SAF-producing hub, and in recent weeks has announced two separate feasibility studies in partnership with industry stakeholders.

The first project will see the government team up with Ampol and Japanese energy giant ENEOS to start a feasibility study for an advanced 500 million litre biofuels manufacturing plant in Brisbane.

The plant would be located at Ampol’s existing refinery site at Lytton, near the port of Brisbane and just across the river from Brisbane Airport, not to mention less than an hour from the cane fields of Rocky Point on the northern Gold Coast.

The second project, in partnership with Jet Zero Australia along with Qantas and Airbus, is investigating the potential for another biorefinery facility, which could produce more than 100 million litres of SAF a year for use in domestic flights.

The project will potentially create about 100 full-time jobs and employ more than 1000 workers during construction of the plant, although its location is yet to be announced.

SAF can be produced from a range of feedstocks and progress on these projects will require some early decisions on feedstock options here in Queensland.

In announcing plans to make Queensland a sustainable aviation fuel powerhouse, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk clearly referenced the sugar industry’s potential, saying: “Queensland is perfectly positioned to be a clean energy superpower because we have both the sunshine and feedstocks including the largest sugar industry in the nation.”

Sustainable Aviation Fuels have the potential to reduce the aviation industry’s carbon emissions by up to 80 percent, significantly boosting the nation’s effort towards that 2030 target.

It is an ideal supply chain diversification option for our industry because the technology exists for SAF to be produced in a complimentary way to our existing sugar production and export industry.

The sugarcane industry is ready, willing and able to make this happen by partnering with government and industry to make Queensland’s dream of becoming a clean energy superpower, a reality.