MONTREAL — Passengers aboard a United Airlines flight heading to Zurich from San Francisco on Friday will be propelled in part by a biofuel created by a Quebec company aiming to clean up the skies.
Agrisoma Biosciences Inc. is the firm behind the biofuel made from Carinata mustard and company founder and president Steve Fabijanski believes it could help dramatically decarbonize the aviation industry.
"For me, this is a very good example of Canadian innovation and especially innovation from Quebec in terms of looking at green solutions," he said in an interview from Paris with The Canadian Press.
Thirty per cent of the jet fuel used in the Boeing will be replaced by the biofuel, leading the company to proclaim the plane will emit 30 per cent less greenhouse gases than a regular flight.
Fabijanski said he believes his company's product is the greenest biofuel ever used in a plane to date and that partnering with United Airlines will serve as a showcase for attracting new projects.
With a flight time of 11 hours, the California-to-Switzerland flight will be the longest transatlantic trip to date using biofuels and the second time Agrisoma's mustard-based product will be used in a commercial flight.
Last Jan. 28, it was used in a 15-hour transpacific Qantas Airways flight between Australia and the United States. In that instance, the biofuel replaced 10 per cent of the jet fuel.
Currently, the technical and regulatory rules limit to 50 per cent the amount of biofuel that can be used in commercial aircraft.
"Fifty per cent is the goal (for the company) and at 50 per cent, you're making a significant impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions," said Fabijanski.
As the number of air passengers has steadily grown, the aviation industry has set as a goal reducing CO2 emissions by 50 per cent compared to 2005 levels. The industry is responsible for two to three per cent of global emissions.
Steven Guilbeault, an environmental activist and co-founder of Equiterre, says Agrisoma's biofuel paves the way for air carriers to take a significant step in reducing their carbon footprint.
"As an ecologist, what matters to me is that this type of technology is spreading and, as a Quebecer, I won't hide the fact it makes me proud that it was developed in our backyard," he said.
The head of Cycle Capital Management, one of Agrisoma's principal investors, didn't hesitate to promote the virtues of biofuel.
"If we put just 10 per cent of this fuel in all the planes around the world, we would accomplish great things," said Andree-Lise Methot, the founder of the clean-tech venture capital fund manager.
On top of the aviation industry, Methot said one of the main qualities of Carinata mustard is that it can grow on land that is not meant to feed people. So unlike ethanol, for example, its cultivation is not done at the expense of food.
Once the oil is extracted from the plant, the residue becomes a protein-rich byproduct that can be used as feed for livestock.
"Carinata grows when nothing grows, it grows in difficult conditions, it's what I call a seed adapted to climate change and, in addition, it yields two beautiful products: biofuel and organic food for animals," she said.
Stephane Blais, The Canadian Press