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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 February 2019

Etihad pilots the UAE's first flight powered by locally-grown plants

Seafood, desert land and seawater were all part of a process to produce sustainable jet fuel in the UAE

Etihad is pushing to develop sustainable jet fuel, the airline said Wednesday. Roland Magunia / National
Etihad is pushing to develop sustainable jet fuel, the airline said Wednesday. Roland Magunia / National

Etihad Airways operated the UAE's first commercial flight powered in part by biofuel generated from Abu Dhabi-grown plants nurtured on desert land, saltwater and seafood.

Flight EY77 from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam was partially powered by locally-made biofuel whose seed oil was processed by Adnoc Refining and delivered by Adnoc Distribution in a push to develop sustainable jet fuel, the airline said on Wednesday.

"It's a small step for mankind but a giant leap for us," Tony Douglas, chief executive of Etihad Aviation Group, said at a press conference in Abu Dhabi. "It shows we can change carbon emissions in aviation."

Airlines have experimented with biofuels for years with the aim of reducing their carbon emissions and their reliance on fossil fuels, but that journey has seen some turbulence, mainly irregular investments and the temptation of occasionally cheap oil. Airlines account for just two per cent of global carbon emissions but the industry's rapid growth and forecasted expansion have made its environmental impact a major priority for regulators and company executives. IATA has set a target to reduce aviation's carbon emissions by half by 2050 compared to 2005 levels.

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Approximately 160,000 passenger flights have flown on a blend of sustainable and traditional jet fuel since the first biofuels were certified for commercial use in 2011.

The biofuel was produced in the UAE by The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), a non-profit organization established by Masdar Institute that is part of Khalifa University of Science and Technology.

Sustainable fuel for the flight was derived from oil in Salicornia plants grown in a two-hectare farm in Masdar City. The Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS) farm is 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.

The biofuel is blended directly with jet fuel and does not require any modifications to aircraft, engines or airport fuelling delivery systems.

The initiative supports the aviation sector, the oil and gas industry, food production and the creation of a new agricultural alternative in the UAE, according to the statement.

Over the next few years, the system is expected to scale up to 200 hectares in a move towards full-scale commercial implementation, the statement said.

Updated: January 16, 2019 06:11 PM

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