Fuel made by Khalifa University from plants grown in saltwater
The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), a non-profit entity established by Masdar Institute that is part of Khalifa University of Science and Technology, has announced the world’s first commercial flight using locally produced sustainable fuel on an Etihad Airways Boeing 787 powered by GE’s GEnx-1B engines.
Research has shown that jet fuel can be produced using desert land and sea water through an innovative agricultural process. The project supports the UAE’s diversification plans and commitment to sustainability.
The flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam marked a major milestone in the development of a clean, alternative aviation fuel to reduce carbon emissions. The initiative also addresses food security in the UAE through the farming of seafood as a core element in the process.
The SBRC partners have been working together to prove the concept of a comprehensive value chain that is centered around the Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS).
This is a synergistic industrial platform that supports the aviation sector, the oil and gas industry, food production and the creation of a new agricultural alternative in the UAE.
Etihad Airways has been at the forefront of aviation biofuel research in the region and this marks the first time that a flight has been operated on fuel derived from plants grown in saltwater.
Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer Etihad Aviation Group, said: “This is a significant milestone for the UAE and its key industries. Etihad is fully committed to this project which demonstrates a successful proof of concept that is local, viable, cost-effective and sustainable.
“Decarbonisation is important across the aviation industry and, together with our partners, Etihad is proud to be at the forefront of this pioneering new research.”
His Excellency Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “The UAE’s visionary leadership is strongly committed to positioning the country as a global hub for innovation and sustainability.
“Deep decarbonisation of energy-intensive industries has a ripple effect on food security and climate action. Clean, alternative aviation fuels are an innovative and sustainable solution to significantly reducing harmful carbon emissions.
“The UAE is proud to be a pioneer in this domain.”
Sustainable fuel for the flight was derived from oil in Salicornia plants, which were grown on the two-hectare SEAS farm in Masdar City.
The SEAS is the world’s first desert ecosystem designed to produce fuel and food in saltwater.
Fish and shrimp raised at the facility provide nutrients for the plants as well as contribute to the UAE’s food production.
Using sustainable feedstock to produce the fuel significantly reduces life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions compared to fossil fuel. The biofuel is blended directly with jet fuel and does not require any modifications to aircraft, engines or airport fuelling delivery systems.
The unique initiative also bolsters the oil and gas industry by using existing refining infrastructure, with the potential to become an important new option for sustainable aviation fuel in the future.
ADNOC Refining has played a fundamental role, providing the expertise and infrastructure to ensure the effective refining of the seed oil to meet stringent jet fuel standards. ADNOC Distribution has also provided an essential element of the project through the blending and delivery of the biofuel to the aircraft.
Operated by the SBRC, the SEAS pilot facility became operational in March 2016. Salt-tolerant halophyte plants that thrive in desert conditions and do not require fresh water or arable land to grow are nurtured there.
Over the course of the next few years, the system is expected to scale up to 200 hectares in the move towards full-scale commercial implementation.