Canadian developed mustard seed oil fuels maiden trans-Pacific flight

Carinata flowering in the field. Image: Agrisoma Biosciences Inc.

Those bright yellow mustard seed fields commonly seen across the prairie could one day be the source of fuel for worldwide jet travel, thanks to an industrial type of mustard seed developed in Canada.

Qantas Airlines operated a 13,000-kilometre flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia on Monday using green fuel manufactured from Brassica Carinata seeds engineered by Gatineau, Quebec-based agricultural-technology company Agrisoma Biosciences Inc.

The historic 15-hour trans-Pacific flight operated with approximately 24,000 kilograms of blended biofuel, saving 18,000 kilograms in carbon emissions.

Carinata is a non-food type of mustard seed that when pressed yields half its weight in high-quality oil that is ideal for renewable aviation jet fuel and renewable diesel fuel, according to Agrisoma, which signed a “farm to flight” deal with Qantas last fall.

The partnership will see Agrisoma work with Australian farmers to grow the carinata seed in commercial quantities. “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 litres of bio jet fuel for the airline,” Steven Fabijanski, Agrisoma’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

Across its lifecycle, using Carinata-derived biofuel can reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent compared to traditional jet fuel, according to Qantas. The 10 per cent biofuel blend used on Monday’s flight will therefore see a seven per cent reduction in emissions on this route compared to normal operations.

The trans-Pacific flight was flown by a Dreamliner 787-9, which is already uses up to 20 per cent less fuel than other traditional aircraft of its size, the airline said.

“Our partnership with Agrisoma marks a big step in the development of a renewable jetfuel industry in Australia–it is a project we are really proud to be part of as we look at ways to reduce carbon emissions across our operations,” said Qantas CEO Alison Webster.

Commercial-scale production
Carinita is water efficient and requires no specialized production or processing techniques. One hectare of carinata seed yields 2,000 litres of oil, which produces 400 litres of biofuel, 1,400 litres of renewable diesel and 10 per cent renewable by-products.

Field trials conducted by the University of Queensland demonstrated the seed should do well in the Australian climate. It is sown in either fallow areas where food crops fail or in between regular crop cycles, known as “cover cropping.” Rotational or break-crops can improve soil quality, reduce erosion for food crops and provide farmers with additional income.

"Farmers can grow carinata with the same equipment as wheat and canola, and it can be grown in the off-season to replenish field nutrients," said Fabijanski. "And while they produce a high oil content, the meal left over from the oil extraction is an excellent high-protein feed for livestock."

He said Agrisoma’s commercial operations in the U.S., South American and Europe are certified as producing fuels with more than 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in comparison to standard petroleum-based fuel.

Fuel for the flight was produced by AltAir Paramount LLC, which operates the world's first commercial-scale renewable jet fuel plant at the AltAir Paramount refinery in Paramount, California, using Honeywell UOP's Renewable Jet Fuel process technology, which converts non-edible animal fats and oils into renewable fuels. The fuels are chemically identical to petroleum-based fuels.

"Honeywell Green Jet Fuel can replace as much as half of the petroleum jet fuel used in flight, without any changes to the aircraft technology, and still meet ASTM specifications," said Dave Cepla, senior director of Honeywell UOP's Renewable Energy & Chemicals business. "Depending on the feedstock, this fuel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 to 85 percent versus petroleum jet fuel."