On Monday morning, a Qantas flight took off from Los Angeles International Airport burning 90-percent regular jet fuel and 10-percent mustard seed oil biofuel. Though that may not seem like a lot, the biofuel is efficient enough that Qantas estimates a seven-percent reduction in emissions compared to a similar 15-hour flight using only traditional jet fuel.
Daniel Tan, an agriculture expert from the University of Sydney, said mustard seed could double as a valuable crop and a source of sustainable fuel for farmers.
“Basically it’s good for growing, and also farmers can also use it. If they grow wheat every year it’s not good for the soil. They can grow mustard seed in between the wheat crops, every second or third year, press the oil and use it locally or export it for use in aviation fuel.”
“A lot of the biodiesel now being processed is actually from waste oil from places like fish and chip shops. A lot of these oils can be processed, but the problem is that they can’t get consistent supply. The big problem with the biodisel industry in Australia is mainly the continuity of supply.”
Mustard seeds have proven popular among biofuel companies. The process of converting the seed to a biofuel is simple, relatively speaking, requiring neither specialized processing or production. The plant is described as “water efficient” and particularly suitable for the climate in Australia.
Qantas' historic flight comes after the airline was named earlier this month as the least efficient carrier in the region. Qantas said the study was flawed. "The reason Qantas ranks low in this study is chiefly because we use larger aircraft, fly very long distances and have premium cabins that naturally have fewer people on board," Alan Milne, Qantas head of fuel and environment, said.
Qantas aims to have flights running regularly on biofuel by 2020.