Etihad and partners launch roadmap towards establishing a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in the UAE
Thu 18 Jun 2015 – A roadmap launched by Etihad Airways and other industry partners indicates that Abu Dhabi holds significant potential to supply domestic feedstocks that can contribute to the formation of a viable sustainable aviation biofuel industry. Following the launch of the BIOjet Abu Dhabi initiative in January 2014, the roadmap is the culmination of a year-long investigation by the airline and its partners, which include Boeing, Total, Takreer and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. The roadmap examines current wider progress on the development of aviation biofuels and explores how a supply chain could be established in the UAE and the necessary feedstock, infrastructure and policy requirements. Three potential feedstocks are identified: cellulosics and oils from saltwater tolerant plants, municipal and agriculture waste, and local forest management. Etihad has also just conducted a fuel-optimised ‘perfect flight’ between Abu Dhabi and Washington DC as part of a new programme.
“The industry’s licence to grow can only be granted if we find and implement ways to lower the carbon footprint of commercial aviation,” said Etihad CEO James Hogan, announcing the roadmap. “The formation of a viable UAE aviation biofuel industry in Abu Dhabi presents significant opportunity for the capital’s ongoing economic diversification initiatives.”
The greatest challenge facing the creation of viable aviation biofuel supply chains is developing adequate supplies of feedstock at competitive prices, says the roadmap report. As a member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group and a commitment to follow the sustainability principles laid out by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials, it is also vital that Abu Dhabi feedstocks do not have harmful impacts on food and water security and provide significant reductions in overall greenhouse gas emissions, adds Etihad.
Given Abu Dhabi’s constraints on freshwater and arable land, the current local agricultural sector would not be a sustainable source of dedicated energy crops but residues from agricultural operations could supply feedstocks, as could municipal wastes. Another potential source is undergoing research by Masdar called the Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (ISEAS), an initiative to develop a unique form of aquaculture involving saltwater-tolerant plants grown on non-arable desert land irrigated with seawater. A pilot facility is currently under construction within Masdar City. Small-scale planting of the halophytic plant salicornia has shown yields compare favourably with soybeans and sunflowers grown with freshwater on conventional croplands. However, there are challenges over coastal land constraints and land tenure.
Municipal and agricultural wastes are highly sustainable feedstocks as they do not put pressure on land and water use or food security and biodiversity. Abu Dhabi is facing pressing waste management challenges that saw waste streams grow by 27% from 2009 to 2013. Under ambitious plans, a government strategy calls for 85% diversion of recyclable or reusable materials by 2030 and identifies waste-to-energy as the only means to achieve the goal. The roadmap notes the interest in this feedstock source by British Airways and Cathay Pacific. A major challenge though is the sorting of useable organic waste, with a significant portion of local waste being mixed with sand, construction waste and other non-organic waste. To rely on waste streams as a feedstock will require the long-term certainty of an acceptable supply, says the report.
Unusually for the region, Abu Dhabi has created a forest landscape upon formerly desert lands and the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi is managing 409 forests spanning 220,000 hectares and containing 18 million trees that are home to around 42,000 antelope and hooved animals. Strong efforts are being made to reduce the pressure on limited groundwater resources, and a different forest mix that includes species demanding less water could create an additional revenue stream as fuel feedstocks and support the long-term sustainability of the legacy forests. However, some commercially viable species are non-native and therefore must be evaluated for their impact, as must the effects of commercial operations on wildlife.
Based on its own petroleum resources and infrastructure, Abu Dhabi already has in place a fully developed jet fuel supply chain and one of the BIOjet Abu Dhabi partners, Takreer, produces jet fuel at two local refineries. Takreer is developing its own aviation biofuel expertise and the demonstration flight undertaken by Etihad in January 2014 (see article) was powered by a plant-derived farnesane product that underwent final distillation at the Takreer Research Centre.
“The development of a biofuel supply chain complements our future plans to meet the rapidly growing demand for jet fuel at both a local and regional level,” said Takreer CEO Jasem Ali Al Sayegh.
The roadmap emphasises that biorefineries will need to be suitably located to provide economical transportation and delivery from feedstock production areas, with the three potential feedstock sources representing different transportation and delivery challenges.
Acknowledging that a substantial cost gap between petroleum fuels and their biofuel substitutes will remain in the early years until a viable scale of operations is reached, the partners say the infant aviation biofuel industry will need significant financial investment that in turn requires public policy support to level the playing field.
The roadmap concludes with an action plan on the next steps to be taken on feedstock supply and biorefinery development.
In a separate initiative involving Etihad Airways, the airline recently launched the Abu Dhabi Perfect Flight Program by conducting a fuel-optimised ‘perfect flight’ between Abu Dhabi and Washington DC. Over 30 stakeholders – including civil aviation authorities, airports, ground services and air navigation providers – were involved in the 11,000km flight of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, one of the airline’s longest routes.
Using a number of fuel and emission-saving measures in the air and on the ground – such as optimised ground handling at both ends of the journey and maximising efficiency opportunities in route and altitude selection – the flight saved an estimated eight minutes on the route, 4,100 litres of fuel and 10,700kgs of carbon emissions compared to the same aircraft flying a normal flight plan.
“The significance of the environment to the aviation sector continues to grow and there is every indication that this will continue,” commented Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority. “The Program offers a tremendous opportunity for more environmentally-friendly flights in the UAE aviation sector.”
Launching the roadmap (L-R): Capt Richard Hill, Etihad Airways COO; Bernie Dunn, Boeing Middle East President; Fareed Mohammed al Jaberi, Takreer VP Supply Division; Sultan Al Hajji, Total E&P UAE VP & Chief Strategy Officer; and Dr Alejandro Rios Galvan, Director of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium & Professor of Practice at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology
Etihad Airways was successful at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group’s first awards ceremony recently, where the airline received ‘Best Sustainability Communication Program’ award for the BIOjet initiative, and the ‘Sustainability Manager of the Year’ award went to Linden Coppell, Head of Sustainability at the airline. Pictured are (L-R) Huda Al Houqani, ADSG Director; H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General of Environment Agency Abu Dhabi; and Linden Coppell