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Masdar tapped for fuel solution

Boeing and Honeywell have commissioned the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to study producing fuel from two types of plants that grow in saltwater.

Threatened by new limits on carbon emissions, two major firms in the aviation industry have turned to Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government-owned clean technology firm, to help find a replacement for jet fuel made from saltwater plants. Boeing, the US aerospace giant, and Honeywell UOP, a fuels producer, announced yesterday they had commissioned the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology to study the potential for producing commercial quantities of fuel from two types of plants that grow in saltwater.

The aviation industry hopes biofuels can provide a low-carbon alternative to petroleum, but biofuels producers have come under fire for displacing food production on arable land. Both algae and saltwater plants, known as halophytes, could be the answer, the industry hopes, since they do not need fresh water or valuable land. "Halophytes can be highly productive sources of biomass energy, thrive in arid land and can be irrigated with seawater, making them suitable for biofuel development, and Abu Dhabi a viable location for conducting a life cycle-analysis study," the companies said.

Several airlines including Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic and Continental have held test flights in which one engine was powered by a combination of jet fuel and biofuel. The Masdar Institute will look at the carbon life-cycle of producing fuel from mangroves and glasswort, a common saltwater plant. Both plants are already under study as a possible fuel source at several locations across the world.

The Masdar Institute hopes to present results by the end of next year. If the study is successful, biofuels based on saltwater plants could prove valuable to the UAE, said Dr Sgouris Sgouridis, the Masdar researcher who will lead the effort. cstanton@thenational.ae

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