Biofuel from desert plants set to clean up aviation

A new process developed by the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) in Abu Dhabi is pulling ethanol biofuel from desert plants fed by non-potable seawater- and it’s doing so more efficiently than many “typical” plant-based ethanol processors.

The SRBC, with funding from Boeing, Honeywell, and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways is working to commercialize the sustainable biofuel without using fresh drinking water or plants that could otherwise be used as food or feedstock. The group believes that a family of plants called halophytes, which are highly salt tolerant and which produce an oil suitable for biofuel production, could be what they’re looking for.

The group hopes that moves like this one will help secure the region’s leadership role in energy production and as a fuels exporter, even in a post-fossil fuel world. “The UAE has become a leader in researching desert land and seawater to grow sustainable biofuel (and) feedstocks, which has potential applications in other parts of the world,” explains Dr. Alejandro Rios, Director of the SBRC. “This project can have a global impact, since 97 percent of the earth’s water is (sewater) and 20 percent of the earth’s land is desert.”

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