Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative
The ultimate goal of the Queensland Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative is to enable construction and operation of a sustainable biofuel manufacturing facility in Queensland. The project started in 2010 and involves a large consortium of academic and industry partners. Currently the project is focused on techno-economic and lifecycle analyses of the production of sustainable aviation fuel from three different feed stocks (sugarcane, algae and the oil seeds of the Pongamia tree) as well as laboratory research on the conversion of sugar cane to advanced biofuel.
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.
Research and industry partners
Hosted at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology at The University of Queensland, the initiative involves partnerships with UQ institutes IMB, QAAFI and the Centre of Excellence for Integrative Legume Research; James Cook University; and leading companies Boeing, Virgin Australia, Mackay Sugar Limited, IOR Energy and the US biotech Amyris.
- AIBN has strong expertise in microbe engineering, systems and synthetic biology, which are being used to develop and improve the process of converting sugarcane to aviation fuel in partnership with Amyris.
- AIBN is also leading the development of detailed, open and transparent techno-economic engineering models that will evaluate the production of biofuels from three different biomass sources (sucrose from sugar cane, oil from the seeds of the Pongamia tree and autotrophic algae). Significant input into the models is being provided by experts in the collaborating institutions and companies. The results will inform researchers and other community stakeholders and help to direct where future research and development would have the greatest impact on feasibility and the cost of production.
- Boeing is performing lifecycle analyses on the production of biofuel from the three feed stocks to evaluate sustainability.
- Amyris brings specific technology for manufacturing biodiesel and aviation fuel from sugar cane.
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.
- Concept analysis
- Business case
- Pre-feasibility study
- Feasibility study
- Implementation/plant construction
- Operations/fuel production
The overall goal is to deliver this plan to enable commercial biofuel manufacture from sugar cane by the end of the decade, with demonstration levels of production within the next five years. The end users will be the Australian airline industry but the fuel, in the form of biodiesel, would also have customers in the sugar industry itself as well as in mining and transportation. Another potential end user is the US Navy, which has a significant requirement for aviation and diesel fuel and has a strategic relationship with Australia. The US Navy will sail a Great Green Fleet in 2016 and has committed to having 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 will 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 will provide 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|