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Boeing joins research in aviation biofuels

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Washington (UPI) Jan 19, 2009
Boeing, which has experimented successfully with renewable aviation fuel, is taking a key part in a new search project bankrolled by the United Arab Emirates to find a sustainable and commercially viable aviation fuel made from seawater plant extracts.

Biofuel research has taken different directions as concern over climate change has produced various responses, from cash-starved poor countries seeking biofuel substitutes for petroleum to rich countries, such as those in the Arabian peninsula, pouring cash into alternatives to hydrocarbons -- their mainstay and chief source of income.

The biofuel quest has also raised concern that it is shifting focus away from agriculture that can eradicate world hunger to agriculture for producing alternative energy. Biofuel research-and-development programs are generating new lines of revenue for businesses that did not engage with the industry until recently.

The latest deal involves the Boeing Co., the United Arab Emirates airline Etihad, Honeywell and the U.A.E.-based Masdar Institute. Boeing said the research would lead to the deployment of a pioneering system using seawater and desert, both in abundant supply in Abu Dhabi.

Boeing will help establish a research institution and demonstration project in Abu Dhabi dedicated to sustainable energy solutions, the company said. The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Project will use integrated saltwater agricultural systems to support the development and commercialization of biofuel sources for aviation and co-products.

Analysts said although Abu Dhabi has vast funds for research, the developers would have to exercise caution in controlling costs to make sure the project can be emulated elsewhere, including countries with fewer resources.

Most agricultural projects in the desert-dominated Arabian peninsula have suffered because of high costs of implementation, mainly due to poor human resources and dependence on immigrant labor. It is not clear yet how the demographics will affect the feasibility of SBRP.

The project managers want to look into applying innovative saltwater farming in Abu Dhabi's arid and saline-rich environment. The government is also keen for Masdar City, where the institute is located, to be celebrated as 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 integrated approach 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.

The closed-loop system converts what would otherwise be problematic aquaculture effluent in seawater into an affordable, nutrient-rich fertilizer for both plants.

The biomass sources can then be sustainably harvested to generate clean energy and to create aviation biofuels and other products.

Developing low-cost, non-petroleum fertilizers is one of the keys to achieving genuine carbon emissions reductions from any biofuel source, the company said.

Analysts said the actual cost of producing alternative biofuels is far from clear because of the huge cash outlays required for technologies involved in arriving at the current stage in biofuel production.

Affluent countries can conduct expensive research to achieve popular interim solutions that they don't yet need, either because they are awash in petroleum or have the cash to buy it. For poor countries, as in Africa and the Caribbean, biofuel development with some help from U.N. agencies has been a hard fight, analysts said.

Abu Dhabi has volunteered to set a target of a 7 percent switch to renewables by 2020.

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The seven partner countries in the troubled Airbus A400M military transport aircraft programme are set to meet with Airbus executives in Berlin on Thursday, a French defence ministry spokesman told AFP. The seven nations -- Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Spain and Turkey -- met in London last week as doubts grew on the future of the delayed and over-budget multi-billion-euro ... read more

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