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Get on board: Experts urge Australia to prepare for sustainable aviation fuel take-off

From oilseed crops to sugar cane and forestry by-products – when it comes to developing biofuels we should be looking to the sky. More specifically, sustainable aviation fuels. Global demand is poised to take-off and experts caution that Australia needs to get onboard to encourage the investment required to capture this opportunity.

Alexandra Gartmann, Fanny Mattens, Brad Jones, Brianna Peak and Stefen Vogel on stage at evokeAG 2024. Alexandra Gartmann, Fanny Mattens, Brad Jones, Brianna Peak and Stefen Vogel.

When you’re struggling with the overhead lockers or looking for the nearest exit, the last thing on your mind is probably the fuel powering your flight. 

Yet Australia is the eighth largest consumer of jet fuel, roughly six billion litres a year, according to Head of Strategic Development and Sustainability for Australia and the Pacific at aerospace manufacturer Airbus, Fanny Mattens. 

“There’s barely any production in Australia and 90% of jet fuel is being imported,” Fanny said.  

“There is an important opportunity for Australia to produce fuel out of biomass, and it’s what we call sustainable aviation fuel.

Sustainable aviation fuel or SAF is made from renewable feedstocks like used cooking oils, fats, plant oils, municipal, agricultural and forestry waste. 

Fanny said air transport accounts for roughly 2.5% of global human induced CO2 emissions and she believes SAF is key to decarbonising the industry. 


Panellists on stage at evokeAG 2024.

Fanny Mattens (second from left), Head of Strategic Development and Sustainability for Australia and the Pacific, Airbus.

“By applying sustainable aviation fuel in aircraft worldwide through the lifecycle it will reduce carbon emissions by 80%.” 

RELATED: Sustainable aviation fuels – are we ready for takeoff? 

What does this mean for Australian agriculture?

Airbus and Qantas are already investing $2 million in a biofuel production facility in far north Queensland to produce up to 100 million litres of SAF from sugarcane waste a year. 

There are also opportunities for cropping too according to General Manager of RaboResearch Australia and New Zealand, Stefan Vogel. 

 “In Australia we consume about 25% of our canola, the rest goes abroad, we have a chance to generate demand here,” he said. 

Brianna Peake from Western Australian grain handler and marketer CBH Group agrees, pointing to BP’s plans to invest in biofuels production in the state. 

“With the increasing pressure of Australian supply chains to decarbonise, and the growing demand for safe and renewable diesel locally, there is a huge opportunity for canola to remain in Western Australia,” she said.  

Brad Jones, a director at Bungulla Farming an 11,000 hectare operation near Tammin in Western Australia’s wheatbelt, sees the potential for growers if SAF was produced locally. 

“As a producer, it’s an opportunity. And we’re really excited about it, especially if we can move away more from export into Europe and the restrictions that are involved with that.

Australia is a major supplier of canola to the European Union biodiesel market, exporting more than 1.8 million tonnes a year, about 75% of our national production. 

Brianna Peake on stage at evokeAG 2024.

Brianna Peake, Chief Stakeholder Relations, Sustainability and Strategy Officer, CBH.

Stefan expects falling demand for biodiesel in Europe from 2030 as more electric vehicles take to the road. 

He argues SAF production, already planned in other parts of the world, could help future-proof demand for Australian oilseeds. 

“By 2030 it might be as big as half of the world’s biodiesel industry and three quarters of the SAF producers want to use vegetable oil.” 

RELATED: The Future Farm: How Brad Jones is scaling up innovation, efficiency, and sustainability impact 

Building on benefits with sustainability

Stefan believes the real benefits of SAF will flow from being able to provide a product that can be shown to be more carbon friendly.  

Panellists on stage at evokeAG 204.

Stefan Vogel (right) General Manager, RaboResearch Australia and New Zealand, Rabobank.

“One of the big problems I see for farmers in reducing emissions is that barely any consumer wants to pay but I think we finally found a consumer (the airline industry) who’s willing to pay, if we do it right.” 

Grain grower Brad Jones also hopes those benefits can flow throughout the supply chain. 

“If we can be recognised at farm level for what we’re doing to sequester carbon then that is a metric or a credit system that can be passed all through the supply chain, right through to the ticketed passenger.” 

From Airbus’ perspective, Fanny said trust in sustainability claims is important.

“Partnering with the agriculture sector is a must for us because it has introduced sustainable criteria early enough and we can demonstrate traceability, transparency of the fuel, where it comes from any to avoid also greenwashing.

What’s needed for take-off?

Thanks to the IRA – the Inflation Reduction Act – many investments fly to the USA thanks to subsidies and grants where the technology is matured,” Fanny said. 

She said mandates for the use of SAF in fuel supply have been applied or proposed in Europe, Singapore and the United Kingdom. Australia has to develop its own suite of policies to support both demand and supply. 

“However, airlines need support to reduce their future SAF offtake price and government shall identify solutions like grants or subsidies to abate this green premium to remain competitive,” Fanny said. 

Brad Jones on stage at evokeAG 2024.

Brad Jones, Director, Bungulla Farming.

Stefan points to the rapid growth of biofuels in the USA, where oil refiners are working with the grains supply chain to build crushing plans, suggesting it could be a model for SAF in Australia. 

Brianna advocates for clear policy direction from government and incentives to encourage investment. 

“Some investment into the crushing and processing side a bit more like what we’ve seen in the US, even if that’s in the form of concessional loans or tax credits, I think could be really important to kick it off.

All agreed that the window to build Australia’s capacity is now and that action is needed to capture the opportunities from SAF. 

Fanny Mattens Airbus Head of Strategic Development and Sustainability for Australia and the Pacific, Stefan Vogel General Manager, RaboResearch Australia and New Zealand Rabobank, Brad Jones Director Bungulla Farming, and Brianna Peake Chief Stakeholder Relations, Sustainability and Strategy Officer CBH Group were part of the panel discussion ‘Ready for takeoff? The state of play for the biofuels industry’ at evokeAG. 2024.

Tickets are now on sale for evokeAG. 2025 to be held on 18-19 February 2025 in Brisbane, Queensland. Following a sell-out event in 2024 we are encouraging delegates to secure their tickets, flights and accommodation early.

We look forward to seeing you in Brisbane for evokeAG. 2025. In the meantime, catch up on the other conversations about sustainability, climate resilience and the role of agtech in meeting those challenges from here.

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