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Boeing and research partners in the United Arab Emirates have made breakthroughs  in sustainable aviation biofuel development, finding that desert plants fed by seawater will   produce biofuel more efficiently than other well-known feedstocks. Shown here, a halophyte   called salicornia, which is being researched at the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium in Abu Dhabi.
Desert plants fed by seawater -- like this halophyte known as salicornia -- will produce biofuel more efficiently than other well-known feedstocks.

Boeing, working with research partners in the United Arab Emirates, recently found that desert plants irrigated with seawater can be used for biofuel more efficiently than other better-known crops and plants. The breakthrough comes as the aviation industry continues to seek ways to reduce the indirect land-use change, or ILUC, effects associated biofuels — for example, biofuel crops crowding out foodstocks and resulting in deforestation as more crops are planted.

The latest Boeing-UAE breakthrough involves halophytes, plants whose seeds contain oil that is suitable for biofuel production. Research indicates that the entire shrub-like plant can be turned into biofuel effectively. The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium, an affiliate of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi, will test these findings further. The SBRC is jointly funded by Boeing, Etihad Airways and Honeywell, with an aim to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel that will emit 50-80 percent less CO2 over its lifecycle than fossil fuel.

The tests will involve planting halophytes in Abu Dhabi’s desert environment and irrigating them with waste seawater from a local seafood farm. “Halophytes show even more promise than we expected as a source of renewable fuel for jets and other vehicles,” said SBRC director Alejandro Rios. “This project can have a global impact, since 97 percent of the earth’s water is ocean and 20 percent of the earth’s land is desert.”

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