UAE rolls out biojet plan for green fuel movement

A joint industry roadmap for the sustainable production of aviation biofuels in the United Arab Emirates has been rolled out and culminates in a 20 point action plan covering four development areas: feedstock supply; biorefinery; distribution and overall supply chain.

‘The BIOjet Abu Dhabi: Flight Path to Sustainability’ is a collaborative roadmap by Etihad Airways together with Boeing, Total, the Abu Dhabi oil refining company Takreer and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. It’s aimed at creating the Middle East’s first commercially viable domestic aviation biofuel industry.

Among its 20 recommendations, the action plan calls for knowledge development through the creation of experimental farms; the mapping out of farm land to facility the growing of halophyte crops which can survive in arid climates and under sea water irrigation, development of a phased plan to blend aviation fuels into jet supplies and the exploration of partnerships with local and international stakeholders.

The project’s leader Linden Coppell, Head of Sustainability, Corporate Affairs, Etihad Airways said the upward momentum now required significant buy-in from government, the commercial sector and civil society. “We have started discussions with various stakeholders and will set up task forces to address the individual aspects of the action plan,” she explained.

The initial collaborative partners are bullish about Abu Dhabi’s prospects of becoming a bio fuels leader. The aviation industry, according to Dr. Alejandro Rios G. Director, Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium, Masdar Institute, has “no alternative” but to back bio fuel development.

“The price of jet fuel has increased consistently from 2000-2012 by 260% and even though there has been some respite recently, increases are likely in the future meaning the airlines will be held hostage to this volatility and 40% of their costs go to this specific item,” he said. “It’s clear that we have to respond together to work and push for alternatives that are sustainable.”

The BioJet roadmap suggests Abu Dhabi has the potential to supply domestic alternative fuel feedstock from salt-tolerant halophyte plants that can be irrigated with seawater, inland planted forests and municipal and agricultural wastes. Dr. Alejandro says research into halophyte products has already begun at a collaborative farm at Sweihan outside of Abu Dhabi where plants are being irrigated by sea water and a newly inaugurated experimental farm pilot facility at Masdar City where eight fields of halophytes are being irrigated by sea water. The pilot facility – a kind of working laboratory – will double in size within three to five years, he said.

“The possibilities of making this happen in the UAE are enormous,” he added.

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