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Mustard Seed Based Fuel Powers Flight

While the transportation industry is slowly – but relatively determinedly – moving towards a landscape of vehicles powered by electricity, there remain several applications for which traditional fuels will likely remain unthreatened for many decades to come.

However, at a time when many companies are making headlines for green innovation targeting automotive and marine applications, the environmental footprint left by the aviation industry is widely acknowledged, yet, by comparison, alternatives to traditional means of fuelling airlines remain largely underdeveloped.

A month ago, however, Qantas Airways flew a routine 13,000 kilometre (8,000 miles) flight from Los Angeles, USA to Melbourne, Australia. The 15-hour flight was otherwise completely nondescript, but for the manner in which the plane was fuelled: the airline used 24,000 kilograms of blended biofuel (10% mustard fuel, 90% regular jet fuel) made from Brassica Carinata seeds, more commonly known as yellow mustard seeds. The biofuel was engineered by Quebec-based agricultural technology company Agrisoma Biosciences and was reported to have saved 18,000 kilograms in carbon emissions.

The process of creating the biofuel from Crassica Carinata seeds is simple: the seed, which is unfit for food purposes, is pressed, and half of its net weight is obtained in oil. This oil can then be made into either jet fuel or diesel fuel, which, over the course of its lifetime, boasts an 80% emissions reduction over regular fuel. Other advantages of the crop include its positive effects on the soil in which it grows, and its ability to survive in drought conditions where other crops do not, giving it remarkable agronomic benefit as an addition to farmers’ crop rotations. There is also little to no waste, as the residue of the squeezed crops can be used for animal feed.

While discussing their partnership with Qantas, Agrisoma Biosciences CEO stated: “Our long-term goal with this partnership is to grow the crop at a target of 400,000 hectares which will ultimately produce more than 200 million liters of bio jet fuel for the airline.”

While one flight operating on a mix of 90% regular jet fuel and 10% biofuel might not appear to be a groundbreaking figure, Dashboard believes this marks a step towards a more rigorous process of innovating biofuels for airlines. The emission savings and the success of the project, like many others of its kind, suggests the regulatory cap of a 50% biofuel composition could be reassessed at some point in the future- but for the meantime, we would like to extend our congratulations to the Agrisoma Biosciences and Qantas on their achievement.