Sun, sea, sand and err, airplane fuel?

From the you couldn’t make it up department comes news that you can make airplane fuel from seawater and sand.


Boeing, Etihad Airways, Honeywell and the Masdar Institute are to set up a sustainable bioenergy research project for jet fuel in Abu Dhabi.

The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Project (SBRP) will use integrated saltwater agricultural systems to support the development and commercialization of biofuel sources for aviation. The SBRP will undertake research projects that combine the arid, saline-rich environment of Abu Dhabi with saltwater farming. The Masdar Institute will be home to the SBRP and provide lab facilities at Masdar City, which aims to become the world’s first zero-carbon city.

“Together with the Abu Dhabi government, Etihad Airways and other industry leaders, we are forging our energy future by developing a renewable fuel supply now, not when fossil fuels are depleted,” said Jim Albaugh, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

“Developing and commercializing these low-carbon energy sources is the right thing for our industry, for our customers and for future generations.”

The project uses saltwater to create an aquaculture-based seafood farming system in parallel with the growth of mangrove forests and salicornia, a plant that thrives in salty conditions. This closed-loop system converts what would otherwise be problematic aquaculture effluent in seawater into an affordable, nutrient-rich fertilizer for both plants. These biomass sources can then be sustainably harvested to generate clean energy and to create aviation biofuels and other products

Etihad Airways Chief Executive Officer James Hogan said, “The development of carbon-neutral sources of energy is of major importance to Etihad Airways and the aviation industry. We are delighted to be a key member of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Project, which will be based in Abu Dhabi and will be one of the most innovative schemes of this nature in the world. The SBRP findings will be of great use to Etihad Airways as we look to reduce the use of conventional fossil fuels and to develop a commercially viable alternative that is also able to meet the sustainability principles that we have committed to as a member of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group.”

According to Masdar Institute Provost Dr. John Perkins, “This project will demonstrate the commercial viability of using integrated saltwater agriculture to provide biofuels for aviation, and it is consistent with the overall vision of Abu Dhabi to achieve a seven percent target of renewables by 2020.”

The seawater farming concept was pioneered by Dr. Carl Hodges of Global Seawater, Inc., who has been hired as a special adviser to the project, which will take place over an area covering two square kilometers (0.8 square miles).

Those of us of a certain age can remember a time in the 1980s when operating system pioneer Dick Pick came up with a plan to set up kelp farms off the Californian coast using artificial reefs made of old car tires.