Aviation industry sustainable fuel consortium commissions Masdar study on halophytes
Halophytes are salt marsh grasses and other species growing in saline habitats
Fri 9 Oct 2009 – Boeing is to join with Honeywell’s UOP to commission a study on the renewable jet biofuel potential of a family of saltwater-based plants known as halophytes. The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi will lead the study, which will examine the overall potential for sustainable, large-scale production of biofuels made from salicornia bigelovii and saltwater mangroves. Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and UOP will also participate in the analysis, which will include an assessment of the total carbon lifecycle of biofuels. The study is being commissioned as part of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group consortium.
“Boeing and the scientific and academic communities are stepping forward to look at the totality of each renewable fuel source that can help us reduce carbon emissions,” said Billy Glover, Managing Director of Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “By working with Masdar Institute to look at these species in a formal research framework, we will better know if certain types of halophytes meet the carbon reduction and socioeconomic criteria that will allow them to become part of a portfolio of sustainable biofuel solutions for aviation.”
Halophytes are said to be highly productive sources of biomass energy, thrive in arid land and can be irrigated with sea water, making them suitable for biofuel. According to Boeing, with improved plant science and agronomy, early testing results indicate that halophytes have the potential to deliver very high yields per unit of land.
The halophyte study will evaluate aquaculture management and practices, land use and energy requirements and identify any potential adverse ecological or social impacts associated with using halophytes for energy development, specifically for aviation biofuel development. To verify data gathered during the analysis, the study will be peer-reviewed by third parties and measured against practices and principles developed by the Roundtable for Sustainable Biofuels. The results are expected to be available in late 2010.
Masdar Institute is an independent, non-profit, research-driven graduate institution established to research and develop alternative energy and sustainable technologies with the support and cooperation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr Sgouris Sgouridis of Masdar Institute said a successful outcome of the study will give the Masdar Initiative an opportunity to expand its portfolio of renewable energy technologies into biofuels that are sustainable and can be grown locally. The Initiative aims to create and sustain the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city, Masdar City, located on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
“Masdar City will have access to important production of locally grown food and thus reduce its dependence on carbon-intensive imports,” he said. “In terms of the United Arab Emirates, it would provide an additional significant source of biofuels that would allow the UAE to transition into a less fossil fuel-dependent economy.”
Speaking at the Greener Skies 2009 conference in Hong Kong this week, Dr Sgouridis said aviation will be the last industry sector to wean itself off fossil fuels. He said halophytes could be harvested mechanically and could produce about half a tonne of oil per hectare but scientists he had spoken to led him to believe the yield could be doubled or better with further research. “All you need is desert and water and there are plenty of areas in the world that meet the required criteria,” he added.
Jennifer Holmgren, General Manager of UOP Renewable Energy & Chemicals, commented: “We must continue to evolve biofuels to incorporate feedstocks that are not only sustainable, but actually regenerative and can restore the ecosystems where they are found. Global Seawater Inc has led the development of a promising solution, and we are excited to be working with this team to further develop and understand the potential impact of integrated seawater systems.”