Middle Eastern airlines are being urged to invest in biofuels programmes to help their industry achieve ambitious targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Aviation produces about 2 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, but growth in air travel will cause the industry to triple its greenhouse gas pollution by 2050, according to the global consultancy Booz & Co, which has just published a report on the subject.
The growth in aviation pollution comes as governments take increasingly pro-active stances to mitigate the impact of carbon dioxide on climate change.
"The development of high-quality biofuels is emerging as the big hope for achieving ambitious climate targets," said Juergen Ringbeck, a Booz & Co partner and air transport analyst. "There is no route map for the international aviation industry that doesn't involve biofuels."
Etihad Airways is involved in a five-year project to create jet fuel from plants grown in salt water. Qatar Airways said last year it would develop new sources of biofuels in partnership with aerospace and energy companies in a project called the Qatar Advanced Biofuel Platform. This effort is being pursued in tandem with a "gas-to-liquids" programme, which would also reduce the carbon footprint of the airline by using cleaner natural gas instead of petroleum as a feedstock.
Fadi Majdalani, a partner with Booz & Co, said the strongest boom in the airline sector was expected to be in Asian nations including India and China as well as in the Middle East, where a rapid expansion of capacity by Emirates Airline, Etihad and Qatar Airways was driving much of the growth.
Etihad said it would soon announce further details of its plans to grow salt-water plants called Salicornia. The airline's Sustainable Bioenergy Research Project is being conducted in conjunction with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, Boeing and Honeywell UOP.
The focus on salt-water plants is part of the industry's emphasis on developing sustainable, locally appropriate feedstocks that do not compete with resources needed to produce food, such as arable land and freshwater. The test site is reportedly 200 hectares in size.
Under the project's plans, seawater would be piped inland to create a fish farm as well as mangrove forests and the Salicornia test plot. Effluent from the fish farm would be used as a fertiliser for the mangroves and the Salicornia.
The project was announced in January last year, and five months ago its founders said a preliminary study assessing the viability of Salicorniahad been successful.