Desert irrigation to sow seeds for biofuel


Boeing is to start growing halophyte plant in the next few weeks with the goal of producing sustainable biofuel in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) using halophyte plants.

Boeing is part of the sustainable bioenergy research consortium (SBRC) and it is planting the halophytes in the desert and irrigating them with seawater from fish and shrimp farms. It says the plant seeds contain oil, which is suitable for biofuel and is more suitable than other feedstocks. Boeing claims this biofuel can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80 per cent compared to fossil fuels.

The SBRC is affiliated with the Master Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, and is funded Boeing, Etihad Airways andHoneywell UOP, an oil refining technology company. Boeing Commercial Airplanes tells Air Cargo Week (ACW): “There is a goal to have the project working fully by later this year with biofuel to be produced and demonstrated with a test flight as soon as possible after that.”

Boeing says planting of the plants and related construction of the farming project will start within the next few weeks, but was unable to give an exact date. Once the water has been used on the halophyte plant species, called salicornia, it will be diverted to mangrove forests. SBRC director, Alejandro Rios, says: “It will provide sustainable food … it will produce renewable energy in the form of bio jetfuels, bioethanol, biogas and green diesel from oil rich native plants, it can produce … biochemicals .”

Boeing also says its collaboration with South African Airways (SAA) to produce biofuel from the nicotine free plant, Solaris, has produced two harvests with a third one expected this year. Boeing and SAA hope to be able to use the fuel this year, but no date has been given.

Boeing has been working on other biofuel projects such as establishing a joint research centre with aircraft maker Embraer in Sao Jose dos Campos (Brazil) to use sugarcane. In Brazil, it has also been working with GOL Airlines to develop sustainable biofuels.