ABU DHABI, Jan. 20, 2015 – Based on ground-breaking research at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) today announced it is awarding a contract to International Mechanical & Electrical Co. L.L.C. (IMECO) to construct the world’s first bioenergy pilot project to use desert land – irrigated by seawater – to produce both bioenergy and food. The pilot project is expected to be operational by late summer.
“This remarkable research has enormous implications for harmoniously producing food and fuel in water- and arable land-constrained regions,” said Masdar CEO Ahmad Belhoul. “Considering that about 20 percent of the world’s land is desert and 97 percent of the world’s water is salt water, this approach turns a land and water resource scarcity problem on its head by creating a bioenergy solution applicable in countries around the globe.
“As the UAE enters the Year of Innovation, bioenergy research will continue to be a key area of focus for Masdar and will help to position our nation as one that incubates and exports knowledge,” Dr. Belhoul added.
SBRC’s announcement was made during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), the Middle East’s largest gathering of international leaders to address the interconnected challenges of energy and water security, climate risk and sustainable development. Hosted by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, ADSW includes the World Future Energy Summit and the International Water Summit.
“Masdar Institute is in pursuit of solutions to the water-food-energy nexus, which is being taken to the next level through this contract, and would like to thank the UAE leadership for their continuing support to address the country’s needs for sustainable food, fuel, and water security through such efforts. Collaborative undertakings like the one we are engaged with through the SBRC will enhance our ability to sustainably meet the UAE’s growing needs,” said President of Masdar Institute Dr. Fred Moavenzadeh.
Masdar Institute, together with Etihad Airways, The Boeing Company and Honeywell UOP, founded the consortium. Safran and GE have since joined.
“The Masdar Institute research is truly game-changing for large-scale biofuel production,” said Barbara Bramble, chair of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), which provides and promotes the global standard for socially, environmentally and economically sustainable production and conversion of biomass. “This project puts the UAE at the forefront of a global movement to create sustainable, alternative fuels that support – not compete with – food production and fresh water conservation.”
The research is funded through the SBRC, established to advance the aviation industry’s commitment to sustainable business practices by developing technology with the promise of producing a clean, alternative fuel supply.
“This project is a great example of the public-private collaborations Etihad believes are essential to stimulating innovation and driving real change within the transportation industry,” said James Hogan, president and CEO, Etihad Airways.
“Boeing is proud to take this important, new step with our partners, Etihad Airways and Masdar Institute, to further one of the most innovative biofuel projects available globally in the United Arab Emirates,” said Jeffrey Johnson, president, Boeing Middle East. “The research leadership and collaboration at the SBRC will support the country’s efforts to innovate for the long-term sustainable growth for commercial aviation here and around the world.”
The project is based upon an integrated, closed-loop system. The technology uses coastal seawater to raise fish and shrimp for food, whose nutrient-rich wastewater then fertilizes plants rich in oils that can be harvested for aviation biofuel production. The plants thrive in arid, desert conditions and don’t require fresh water or arable land to grow. Lastly, the effluent is diverted into cultivated mangroves being discharged back into the sea, further removing nutrients and providing valuable carbon storage.
The goal of this pilot project is to demonstrate the integrated bioenergy process as a commercially viable and sustainable system with respect to essential food and fuel production, suitable land use, reduced carbon emissions and wastewater clean-up.
Studies have shown that sustainably produced aviation biofuel reduces carbon emissions by 50 to 80 percent through its lifecycle. More than 1,600 flights have used sustainable aviation biofuel blended with conventional petroleum jet fuel since renewable jet fuel was approved for commercial use in 2011.