Townsville tapped to turn farm waste into jet fuel

Farms in North Queensland could provide the key to reducing plane pollution after companies revealed plans to turn agricultural waste into jet fuel in a Townsville facility. 

Jet Zero Australia announced it had signed a deal with US biofuel firm LanzaJet on Tuesday as part of a plan to produce 102 million litres of sustainable aviation fuel each year, or enough to meet the demands of Cairns and Townsville airports.

The deal comes almost one year after the Queensland government teamed with Airbus and Qantas to investigate Australia's first sustainable aviation facility, and after the federal government set up the Australian Jet Zero Council to investigate ways to reduce aviation emissions. 

The engineering agreement between the two companies will see them build a facility at Cleveland Bay in Townsville, where they will use LanzaJet's alcohol-to-jet technology to convert bioethanol into sustainable aviation fuel and renewable diesel. 

The low-emission fuel is produced using agricultural waste such as sugarcane, corn and grain by-products, which Queensland Premier Steven Miles said made Townsville an ideal location.

"North Queensland is in a unique position to provide feedstock for this project, while also being close to the industry partners that are already investing in our state," he said. 

"Queensland's renewable energy advantage means we can protect and grow regional jobs in high-tech sectors like sustainable jet fuel."

The facility is expected to support more than 100 jobs, and comes after the state government invested $760,000 in a feasibility study into its development. 

Sustainable aviation fuel is typically mixed with traditional jet fuel to reduce carbon emissions from planes, and has become a major component of airlines' plans to cut air pollution and meet the industry-wide goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Qantas and Airbus also contributed $2 million to the the development of a sustainable aviation fuel facility as part of Project Ulysses.

Airbus Australia chief representative Stephen Forshaw said the nation needed to act swiftly to seize the chance to produce low-emission aviation fuel before another country claimed it.

"If we don't move soon, the opportunity to build a new fuels industry locally will disappear," he said.

"However, we think Australia has every chance of becoming a sustainable fuel superpower, with the right support from government and industry."

Qantas chief sustainability officer Andrew Parker said low-emission fuel remained in high demand worldwide, and he hoped the Townsville plant would "kickstart" local production. 

"Sustainable aviation fuel is the most significant tool airlines have to reduce their emissions but it's only available offshore, with no local supply for airlines in Australia," he said. 

Large quantities of the eco-friendly fuel will be required to cut carbon emissions from air travel in Australia and around the world. 

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