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How a sustainable aviation fuel industry is creating opportunities for Queensland

How a sustainable aviation fuel industry is creating opportunities for Queensland

We caught up with Ed Mason, founder and Managing Director of Jet Zero Australia, whose vision for a new Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) industry in Queensland is rapidly taking shape, thanks to the support of our department.
Please note, no decision on where a biorefinery may potentially be located has yet been made.

Like many of us during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ed Mason stayed close to home, and had more time to think about what was really important.

With a wealth of achievements as an executive and company director in the engineering, finance and energy sectors, Ed’s next challenge was one very personal to him: how to best support his local region.

‘My family home is in the Mission Beach and Tully area,’ he explains. ‘I normally split my time between Sydney and North Queensland, but I spent much more time at home during COVID.’

‘I’d been looking for a while at what options existed beyond traditional industries. It’s a beautiful part of Australia full of really good people but it just lacks industry opportunities, especially for young people.’

Ed identified such an opportunity, at the intersection where the needs of producers looking to diversify met energy companies eyeing off the benefits of renewables: the biofuels industry.

‘I know a lot of the sugar farmers up here and I’d seen the increasing momentum and interest to evolve the industry, both at the grassroots level and also local councils and mayors worrying about population decline,’ he says.

‘I revisited the biofuel space in the context of looking for industries that would appeal to energy companies looking to transition that didn’t require huge amounts of capital like solar and wind. At the government level, you also had the Biofutures Roadmap and the Energy and Jobs Plan. Across the whole spectrum of industry and government there was a big push to evolve, and that was of interest to me.’

Ed soon identified Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) as the biofuel industry with the greatest potential, and in 2021 established his company Jet Zero Australia to begin exploring the possibility of being able to produce SAF at a facility in Queensland.

Partnerships

From the outset, Ed set up Jet Zero Australia to build relationships and connections to deliver the best possible product.

‘We’re an energy company trying to pick the best technologies,’ he says, ‘not a tech company trying to deploy in different ways. We’re choosing partners that are the best in their respective fields.’

Ed says a lot of time was spent exploring alcohol to jet (ATJ) fuel, developed through ongoing conversations with US-based fuel technology company LanzaJet to make use of their ATJ technology.

‘I spent 18 months talking to LanzaJet, doing our own research on the market and talking to ethanol suppliers, and to farmers,’ says Ed.

The “third pillar” for Jet Zero Australia was the joint announcement by The Qantas Group and Airbus of the Australian Sustainable Aviation Fuel Partnership, an agreement aiming to accelerate the establishment of a SAF industry in Australia.

For Ed, this announcement was “when the penny dropped”, and the idea of a SAF production facility in Queensland became something attainable.

'This wasn’t business to government or business to consumer,’ he says. ‘It was corporates wanting to buy products off corporates like us. So, we went all in.’

Becoming a reality

In March 2023, plans for a new SAF refinery were unveiled, through a landmark partnership between Jet Zero Australia, the Queensland Government, Jet Zero Australia, The Qantas Group and Airbus.

For Ed, the potential of the SAF refinery, currently undergoing a feasibility study, is multi-fold.

‘The obvious benefit is jobs,’ he says. ‘We’re looking at 100 full-time people directly and indirectly employed with the business, and about 1,000 people involved in the construction and development of the project.’

‘I think more importantly, we’ll be able to leverage local TAFE programs already in place around the renewables sector to really expand understanding of biofuels and the ATJ process to deliver new skills.

‘On top of this we’re proving an industry that provides 100% fuel security and the ability to rapidly scale-up business if needed. For [a sector] like Defence, whose fuel needs are 70% aviation fuel, it will be an appealing option.’

Jet Zero Australia founder and Managing Director, Ed Mason

How it will work

Construction of the refinery could start as early as 2024, with an initial production target of 100 million litres of SAF per year for use in domestic flights, using LanzaJet’s ATJ technology to turn a range of agricultural by-products into biofuel.

‘We’re looking at by-products from wheat and sugar cane,’ Ed says. ‘Our focus is really providing a new potential source of income for farmers. Valuing products other than just sugar for the farmer will encourage an evolution of the industry in line with what cane growers want a lot quicker.’

New horizons

When asked about the risk associated with the SAF industry, Ed is pragmatic.

‘I’ve helped companies far bigger than us to finance fairly risky exploration programs,’ he explains. ‘They’re absolutely binary in their outcomes – there’s either fuel there or there’s not – so the concept of pioneering an industry like SAF is not too far from that.’

‘When you’re pioneering a new industry, you’ve got to work with everyone and I think we’ve done that,’ he says. ‘When you’re deploying new capital into an industry, particularly institutional capital, they want to know the prize is big, and certainly the prize here is huge. It’s forecast that it’s going to go from a 500 million litre market per annum to a 500 billion litre market. We’ve got a market that is going to require a lot of SAF.’

‘We’ve got the right purpose, we’ve got the right people, we’ve got the right path.’

Queensland’s bright biofutures

An Australian SAF industry is expected to be worth $3 billion annually and could create up to 15,600 jobs nationwide by 2050.

DSDILGP’s Biofutures team is hard at work facilitating a number of initiatives to establish Queensland as the SAF hub of the Asia Pacific region including the recent announcement of a memorandum of understanding between the Queensland Government and Qantas, who will work together to further grow a local SAF industry.

The Jet Zero Australia project is another step forward in growing Queensland’s sustainable fuels industry through the Queensland Biofutures 10-Year Roadmap and Action Plan.

Last updated: 09 Nov 2023