Greening the Desert, for Biofuel

by Graham Warwick
Jan 23, 2014

I can never quite shake a lingering worry over the unintended consequences of developing ways to turn almost anything into biofuel - I imagine driving through and flying over a world stripped bare of other living things to meet our energy needs...but finding a way to grow feedstocks for fuels in the desert can't be that bad, can it?

Boeing says research conducted in the United Arab Emirates shows that halophytes - saltwater-tolerant plants - grown in coastal desert and irrigated with seawater can be effectively converted into biomass from which aviation biofuel can be produced. Funded by Boeing, Etihad and Honeywell UOP, the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Constorium plans test the concept this year in Abu Dhabi.

The goal is to demonstrate an integrated ecosystem that minimizes land use, carbon emissions and waste discharge. Here is how it will work:

blog post photo
Graphic: Boeing

Seawater is pumped from the ocean into an existing fish and shrimp farm. Waste water from this aquaculture operation, enriched with fish-wates nutriets, is used to irrigate a field of shrub-like halophytes called salicornia. The water is cleaned by these plants, then drains into a mangrove wetland before returing to the oceans. Both the halophytes and mangrives will be converted to biomass for aviation biofuel.

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