Etihad Airways today flew the world’s first commercial flight using locally produced sustainable fuel on a Boeing 787 powered by GE’s GEnx-1B engines. Fuelled by the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), a non-profit entity established by Masdar Institute, part of Khalifa University of Science and Technology, this flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam marked a major milestone in the development of clean, alternative aviation fuel to reduce carbon emissions.
Etihad Airways has been at the forefront of aviation biofuel research in the region and this marks the first time that a flight has been operated on fuel derived from plants grown in saltwater. Sustainable fuel for the flight was derived from oil in Salicornia plants, which were grown on the two-hectare Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS) farm in Masdar City. The SEAS is the world’s first desert ecosystem designed to produce fuel and food in saltwater. Fish and shrimp raised at the facility provide nutrients for the plants as well as contribute to the UAE’s food production.
Operated by the SBRC, the SEAS pilot facility became operational in March 2016. Salt-tolerant
halophyte plants that thrive in desert conditions and do not require fresh water or arable land to
grow are nurtured there. After wastewater from the fish fertilises the plants, it is diverted into a
cultivated mangrove forest. This further removes nutrients and provides valuable carbon storage before the naturally filtered and treated effluent is discharged back into the sea. Over the course of the next few years, the system is expected to scale up to 200 hectares in the move towards full-scale commercial implementation.
“At the forefront of this pioneering new research”
Tony Douglas, group CEO Etihad Aviation Group, said: “This is a significant
milestone for the UAE and its key industries. Etihad is fully committed to this project which
demonstrates a successful proof of concept that is local, viable, cost-effective and sustainable.
“Decarbonisation is important across the aviation industry and, together with our partners, Etihad is proud to be at the forefront of this pioneering new research.”
The initiative also addresses food security in the UAE through the farming of seafood as a core element in the process. The SBRC partners have been working together to prove the concept of a comprehensive value chain that is centred around the SEAS. This is a synergistic industrial platform that supports the aviation sector, the oil and gas industry, food production and the creation of a new agricultural alternative in the UAE.
“A global hub for innovation and sustainability”
HE Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, minister of Climate Change and Environment,
said: “The UAE’s visionary leadership is strongly committed to positioning the country as a global hub for innovation and sustainability. In this context, productive cross-disciplinary public-
private partnerships are crucial to fuelling research and development efforts and creating game-changing innovations that enable a more sustainable future.
“Deep decarbonisation of energy-intensive industries has a ripple effect on food security and climate action. Clean, alternative aviation fuels are an innovative and sustainable solution to
significantly reducing harmful carbon emissions. The UAE is proud to be a pioneer in this domain.”
HE Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Al Mheiri, minister of State for Food
Security, said: “This proof of concept is a ground-breaking development that addresses the
challenges of energy, water and food security – three elements that are inextricably linked and
which form a nexus, meaning that actions in any one area have an impact on the others.
“An initiative that supports multiple platforms”
“What is particularly exciting about the SEAS is that it is an initiative that supports multiple platforms; aviation, oil and gas and agriculture. It is an important specialised initiative under the aquaculture umbrella, with the UAE recognising that this sector represents one of the best uses of what is the region’s most precious resource and has consequently established its aquaculture sector with an investment of more than AED 100 million to develop hatcheries and fish farms.”
Using sustainable feedstock to produce the fuel significantly reduces life-cycle carbon dioxide
emissions compared to fossil fuel. The biofuel is blended directly with jet fuel and does not require any modifications to aircraft, engines or airport fuelling delivery systems. The unique initiative also bolsters the oil and gas industry by using existing refining infrastructure, with the potential to become an important new option for sustainable aviation fuel in the future.
Approximately 160,000 passenger flights have flown on a blend of sustainable and traditional jet
fuel since the first biofuels were certified for commercial use in 2011. Sustainable aviation fuel
represents a significant opportunity to help aviation meet its goals to cap the growth of carbon
emissions by 2020 and cut levels to half of what they were in 2005 by 2050.
“SEAS is a game-changer”
Sean Schwinn, vice president of Strategy and Market Development for Boeing International, said: “Etihad’s flight proves SEAS is a game-changer that can substantially benefit air transport and the world. The research and technology being developed shows significant promise to transform coastal deserts into productive farmland supporting food security and cleaner skies.”
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