Fuel for airplanes: Is this the future of the Irish tillage sector?

One of the most reassuring things for tillage farmers from the report on the Future of the Tillage Sector in Ireland was the acknowledgement by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine that “the retention of a strong sector is important in terms of food and feed”.

The report also stated that: “Ireland’s agricultural emissions could face significant adverse impacts should substantial numbers of tillage farmers opt to pursue livestock farming in its place.”

Livestock farmers contribute significantly to green-house gas (GHG) emissions; but another major contributor to GHGs are those airplanes flying overhead. You might think – how is this related to agriculture?

Well the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture sees airplanes as a way of bringing the Irish tillage sector out of crisis.

Recommendation 20 of the report states:

The committee recommends that a study be undertaken on the growth potential of camelina as a potential bio-fuel for the air transport sector.

Camelina is similar to oilseed rape – it produces oil. It can be processed to produce advanced bio-fuel, which can fuel aircraft and can be priced competitively against petroleum-based jet fuel.

The report stated that one American airline has entered into an agreement to buy 15 million gallons of low-carbon, renewable jet fuel over a three-year period.

United Airlines in the US uses a mix of 30% bio-fuel and 70% traditional fuel. The airline stated on its website that the 15 million gallons of bio-fuel it plans to purchase from AltAir is enough to power the equivalent of 12,500 flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

However, Teagasc added that there is no substantial information on camelina production in Ireland as it is not grown in large volumes.

The cake produced after oil pressing from camelina is a source of protein for animal feed.

The report also cautioned that there is a risk that bio-fuels for vehicles may be by-passed by electric vehicles. However, it stated that there is a market for these products in the meantime.