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Flying into green skies with bio-fuel

ABC, 27 February 2013

The so called greening of the skies is the big challenge for aviation. It currently pumps out 2 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions but it is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2020. Alternative energy experts who have flown in for Victoria's Avalon Airshow say bio-fuels are the key.

TICKY FULLERTON, PRESENTER: The so-called greening of the skies is the big challenge for aviation.

It currently pumps out 2 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but it's aiming to be carbon neutral by 2020 – at a price, as we've just heard.

Alternative energy experts who've flown in for Victoria's Avalon Airshow say biofuels are the key, as Emily Stewart reports.

EMILY STEWART, REPORTER: It takes a lot of fuel to keep these planes up in the air.

SUSAN POND, US STUDIES CENTRE: The industry's projected to grow five-fold between 2005 and 2030, so they cannot continue a business-as-usual approach to the fuel that they burn.

EMILY STEWART: Biofuel offers the best alternative source. It's made from biomass, from plants, trees, algae waste and other organic matter.

JEFFREY STEINER, US DEPT. OF AGRICULTURE: It won't be any one feed stock that can meet all the needs of the aviation industry and as well then not any one region in any one country can produce all the feed stocks that are needed, so it really helps to diversify the supply chain.

EMILY STEWART: Experts say it's likely the United States will be producing a commercial product for airlines within the next five years and in Australia inside the next decade.

RICHARD ALTMAN, COMMERCIAL AVIATION ALTERNATIVE FUELS INITIATIVE: Biofuel industry in Australia has great opportunity because you have plenty of land, opportunity for feed stock development, keen environmental focus.

EMILY STEWART: A report by the CSIRO found the biofuels industry could reduce Australia's reliance on fuel imports by $2 billion per annum and generate more than $12,000 jobs in the next 20 years.

All of these planes run on aviation fuel, but the CSIRO says by 2050 all Australian planes could be powered by biofuel.

Qantas is already on board. It's spent almost $3 billion on fuel in the December half alone. It estimates a saving of 2 per cent by burning biofuels.

Virgin is also a partner in renewable energy research.

So demand is strong, but it can't yet be delivered in commercial quantities.

SUSAN POND: Building the refineries is not hard; the technologies are known. It's a matter of the long-term project financing.

EMILY STEWART: In the United States the Defence Department is a strong supporter of the industry.

RICHARD ALTMAN: We've got a program with the US Defence Department called the Defence Production Act which will build some five different biorefineries and create opportunities for aviation, for marine together.

EMILY STEWART: Joelle Simonpietri from the US Pacific Command Energy Office say biofuels perform just as well as traditional petroleum aviation fuel. And while it won't replace petroleum-based fuel, it offers a great alternative.

JOELLE SIMONPIETRI, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE: Policy wise, it's for strategic reasons, it's to address price volatility, it is for broader national goals.

EMILY STEWART: Here, they're preparing to light the afterburners at this year's Avalon Airshow, and while the biofuel industry hasn't yet got off the ground, visiting experts say for Australia, green skies are the limit.