Qantas in talks with two other biofuel producers

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Qantas Airways is in discussions with two additional alternative fuel producers with a view to entering similar arrangements to the pacts it recently signed with US renewable energy companies Solazyme and Solena.

The carrier in February entered a 12-month agreement with California-based Solazyme to develop a business case for the introduction of algae-based aviation fuel technology to Australia. This followed a similar arrangement with Washington DC-based Solena to look into converting biomass from municipal waste into aviation biofuel.

Qantas chief risk officer Rob Kella tells ATI the airline is in talks with two other organisations and might make another similar announcement soon.

"We made the determination in the last 18 months that not one biomass or technology is far enough along to back it solely, so we are developing a portfolio approach using different technologies and different biomass," says Kella.

Qantas' agreement with Solena is similar to an earlier arrangement between Solena and British Airways, under which the airline agreed to purchase all of the fuel produced by Solena's planned GreenSky conversion facility in east London to use on part of its fleet from 2014. However, Qantas has not put a figure on how much biofuel it would eventually purchase.

"If it's commercially viable and they produce a fuel that's certified, we'll buy it," says Kella. "We needed to make that commitment in principle to show that we were serious, but we didn't want to commit to quantities or price points because there is still a lot of work to do."

Locations under evaluation for constructing the biofuel conversion facilities include New South Wales and Sydney for the Solena plant and Queensland for the Solazyme project, says Kella.

The agreements are part of a review of clean fuel technology being carried out by Qantas as it seeks ways of reducing its reliance on crude oil. "We would like to be sourcing anything from 2% to 3% to 5% of our fuel needs [from alternative suppliers] within five years," says Kella.