Seawater-fed desert plant an efficient source of sustainable aviation biofuel, find Abu Dhabi scientists
Salicornia bigelovii, a species of halophyte, shows promise as a sustainable biofuel feedstock (photo: SBRC)
Thu 23 Jan 2014 – Research scientists in Abu Dhabi claim to have made a breakthrough in sustainable aviation biofuel development, finding desert plants fed by seawater can produce biofuel more efficiently than other well-known feedstocks. The work, funded by Boeing, Etihad Airways and Honeywell UOP, is being carried out by the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), which is affiliated with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. SBRC scientists will now test their findings in a pilot project that could support biofuel crop production in arid countries, such as the United Arab Emirates.
Announced at this week’s World Future Energy Summit, the research findings follow the launch a few days ago of the BIOjet Abu Dhabi advanced aviation biofuel initiative and a sustainable biofuel demonstration flight by Etihad (see article).
“Plants called halophytes show even more promise than we expected as a source of renewable fuel for jets and other vehicles,” said Dr Alejandro Rios, Director of the SBRC, which is dedicated to the development and commercialisation of sustainable aviation biofuel. “The UAE has become a leader in researching desert land and seawater to grow sustainable biofuel feedstocks, which has potential applications in other parts of the world.”
Since 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean and 20% of the earth’s land is desert, Rios is confident his project could have a global impact.
Halophyte seeds contain oil suitable for biofuel production and in the coming year, SBRC scientists will create a test ecosystem by planting two crops of halophytes in Abu Dhabi’s sandy soil. Waste water from a fish and shrimp farm will nourish the halophytes that in turn clean the water as they grow. The water will then flow into a field of mangroves before returning to the ocean. Both plants could be converted into aviation biofuel using SBRC research findings.
“This is real progress in developing a truly sustainable aviation biofuel from a renewable plant source appropriate to our environment,” commented Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan.