Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MI), the Boeing Company, Etihad Airways, and Honeywell’s UOP announced today the completion of a Sustainability Assessment of the Integrated Seawater Agriculture System (ISAS) for production of aviation biofuels and other bioresources. This study makes a significant contribution to current knowledge on the viability of using salt-tolerant plants irrigated with seawater as a sustainable feedstock for biofuels. The researchers confirmed the potential of ISAS to yield high value fuels and resources, including aviation fuel, biodiesel, electricity, aquaculture products, and others, without competing for freshwater resources and arable land used by conventional agriculture. The study also identified key research needs that can be addressed in order to increase the likelihood of success at large-scale commercial deployment.
The announcement came at the World Future Energy Summit, held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nayhan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
The research which commenced a year ago also entails basic agronomic research on the halophyte Salicornia bigelovii, which is still currently in progress. The findings will provide valuable inputs for the development of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Center (SBRC), of which Masdar Institute, Boeing, Etihad Airways and Honeywell’s UOP are founding members .
The flagship program under the SBRC will be a five year research and demonstration project designed to drive the commercial viability of halophyte-derived bioenergy, including renewable jet fuels. The program will use integrated seawater agricultural systems to support the development and commercialization of biofuel sources for aviation, and co-products.
Billy Glover, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Vice President of Environment and Aviation Policy, said: "No initiative is doing more to stimulate action to help develop and commercialize sustainable forms of energy for aviation within the Gulf region. Aviation connects the people, goods and services of this region to the world and our project with Masdar Institute, Etihad Airways and Honeywell's UOP will ensure that linkage continues well into the future."
ISAS combines aquaculture, Salicornia cultivation, and mangrove silviculture into an integrated low-impact system for biofuel production that relies on seawater irrigation and does not compete for arable land. It also offers the prospect of contributing to the development of an alternative fuel source that can alleviate a portion of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions without negative environmental impacts.
Dr. Sgouris Sgouridis, Assistant Professor, Engineering Systems and Management, Masdar Institute, said: "Masdar Institute's unique placement as a center for innovation on renewable energy in general, located near the deserts of Abu Dhabi, with continuously expanding researcher pool makes it an ideal location for the exploration of arid land biofuel production. We are confident that as research progresses in the next five years we will provide answers and demonstrate whether the dream is feasible and eventually nurture its commercial spin-offs."
The Sustainability Assessment led by Dr. Sgouris Sgouridis and Dr. Scott Kennedy, Associate Dean for Research and Associate Professor at Masdar Institute focused on the life cycle impacts of biofuel production and resulted in positive indications for further developing the ISAS concept and bring it closer to commercialization; by working in close collaboration with commercial partners including Boeing Co., Etihad Airways, and Honeywell’s UOP and the Abu Dhabi government.
Jim Rekoske, Vice President and General Manager for Renewable Energy and Chemicals at Honeywell’s UOP, said: "The work of Masdar Institute and the other SBRC members is going to bring a new, geographically-optimized, renewable energy source for the production of high-quality aviation biofuels. We are proud to be a part of this program and of the work accomplished to date. Most importantly, we are looking forward to the opportunity to showcase renewable fuels technology and support the needs of the aviation community.”
James Hogan, CEO of Etihad Airways, said ‘We see the use of sustainable biofuels as a major positive step change for our industry and we are proud to be involved with the Masdar Institute, Boeing and Honeywell’s UOP on a project that makes use of the resources of this region and supports the sustainability strategies of Abu Dhabi, including key research and development.’
The larger issues of economics and sustainability will be the predominant forces surrounding the overall future of biofuels, and their penetration into the aviation market. Through projects such as the SBRC, Masdar Institute addresses the technology advances needed in the area of feedstock production efficiency (including land use) and making sufficient quantities available to be a major portion of the aviation fuel supply.