Etihad researching ways to use carbon-neutral fuel
ABU DHABI // Masdar and Etihad Airways are conducting research that will allow the UAE’s national airline to use carbon-neutral fuel made with components found in abundance in the country: salt water, sand, fish and mangrove trees.
The idea was presented on Thursday at the Biojet Fuel project, where experts from Etihad, Boeing, Masdar and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) presented a “road map” towards zero-carbon fuel.
Biofuel, an industry term used to define fuel made from living things instead of fossilised remains, significantly reduces carbon dioxide emissions.
Although the fuel has properties similar to other petrochemicals, with biofuels the carbon dioxide generated during combustion is offset by what was removed from the atmosphere by the plants.
“It’s a water-scarce region,” said Dr Alejandro Rios, the director of the sustainable bioenergy research consortium at Masdar Institute. “This is why many people, when you mention the word biofuels in this region, they say, ‘What are you talking about, are you crazy?’
“Yes, we’re crazy. This is exactly what we are. We’re producing biofuels where no one thinks it can be produced.”
The plan is simple, he said.
Salt water and waste nutrients from a fish-farming pool are used to irrigate salt-tolerant plants, halophytes, which can then be harvested for their seeds to produce oil.
That oil is taken to a refinery and the carbon by-products from the plants are redirected to another pool with mangroves that can use those by-products as nutrients for growth.
“The pilot project is a way to identify the boundaries of the system,” Dr Rios said. “Meaning, how far, how deep and wide can we push the different interactions between the different subsystems?”
The carbon offset is integrated into the process because producing food, in the form of fish from the pool, and helping mangrove growth are both by-products, not the product.
“The No 1 problem for aquaculture is waste,” said Darrin Morgan, the director of sustainable aviation fuels and environmental strategy at Boeing.
“When it’s untreated, it creates significant problems for watersheds. This system treats the waste in a profitable way, so really its an aquaculture project with a self-funding profitable system that also happens to make jet fuel.”
The driving force behind the system, he said, is the growth of aquaculture around the world, making it a profitable industry.
Mr Morgan said that the tests conducted at Masdar will indicate the project’s viability in other areas with similar environments.
“The applicability of this is global,” he said. “As we’re moving forward with this we’re making partnerships around the world, but the idea is to make the UAE the epicentre of knowledge and expertise to roll it out worldwide.”
Biofuel accounts for 1 per cent of the world’s commercial jet fuel usage. By blending it with conventional jet fuel, aircraft engines built in the past three decades can use it without any adjustments.
Mr Morgan said, however, that a future where biofuel comprises 100 per cent of the fuel used, will require planes with different engineering.
Updated: June 11, 2015 04:00 AM