Arab biofuel plants planting-Masdar Institute of Science and Technology

As the world seeks to reduce carbon emissions, the aviation field is making major advancements.

A new research facility the size of four football fields is using resources abundant in the desert –salt and sand– to grow “super plants” for the production of renewable jet fuel.

The facility, near the Abu Dhabi airport, is the result of a Gulf region partnership between Boeing, Etihad Airways, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and UAE jet fuel company Takreer.

“Seawater and sand, which most people consider a weakness when investigating bio-energy, turn out to be our strengths,” said Dr. Alejandro Rios, the Director of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium who is leading the research at Masdar Institute.

The secret to the experimental Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS) is the salicornia plant. Salicornia is a salt-tolerant halophyte, with a unique internal mechanism that allows it to grow in seawater. Its seeds contain plant oils that can be turned into jet fuel.

The plants can also produce biofuel more efficiently than other well-known feedstocks.

seeds of biofuel salicornia-released

The expansive research site includes a food-production component to nourish the plants through the use of aquaculture. The shrimp and fish waste provides fertilizer at the same time as the creatures are cleaning the seawater and air as they grow. The goal is to replicate this type of facility in similar regions with arid climates and saltwater resources.

salt water bioplant facility-Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium

“Hearing very credible experts in this area saying this is potentially gold standard when it comes to sustainability – it’s really so exciting,” said Linden Coppell, head of sustainability at Etihad, the UAE’s national airline, which operates a large fleet of Boeing airplanes.

“This facility in the UAE “shows real promise to transform coastal deserts into productive farmland supporting food security and cleaner skies,” added Marc Allen, president of Boeing International.

One research student at the Masdar Institute, which focuses on developing solutions to environment and sustainability challenges, said it best: “I like to call it a ‘super plant’,” said Mohamed Al Ghailani, “There is so much potential and there is so much that we can do with it.”

(WATCH a video news report below) – Photos from Seawater Energy and Agriculture System

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