How the Abu Dhabi project progressed

2011: The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) was established in Abu Dhabi as a not-for-profit research consortium to advance sustainable business practices in the aviation industry by developing technology to produce a clean, alternative fuel supply.

2016: Pilot facility of the Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS) inaugurated in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi

2016: Initial batch of Salicornia plants was planted in Abu Dhabi facility

2019: Etihad Airways successfully operated the first commercial flight partially fuelled by biofuel produced from Abu Dhabi facility (on Jan 15)

Partners and their role

■ Khalifa University of Science and Technology is responsible for research and innovation of the project

■ Etihad Airways flew the world’s first flight using biofuel made in the UAE from plants grown in saltwater

■ Boeing: The plane used in the project was a Boeing 787

■ Adnoc Refining Its research centre in Abu Dhabi refines the oil from Salicornia seeds. Adnoc has refined the biofuel for the first time, making it a significant and unique milestone for the organization.

■ Safran, an international high-technology group and supplier of systems and equipment in its core markets of aerospace, defence and security, is responsible for process evaluation for the fuel production in the project.

■ GE, the world’s digital industrial company, provided the GEnx-1B engines on the aircraft

■ Bauer Resources, an engineering consultant, helped in the mechanical integrity in the pilot facility

What top officials say...

Dr Thani Bin Ahmad Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment

Dr Thani Bin Ahmad Al Zeyoudi Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

“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.”

Mariam Al Muhairi, Minister of State for Food Security

Mariam Al Muhairi Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

“This initiative 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 Dh100 million to develop hatcheries and fish farms.”

Tony Douglas, Group Chief Executive Officer Etihad Aviation Group

Tony Douglas Image Credit: Supplied

“This project 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.”

Dr Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, Executive Vice-President, Khalifa University of Science and Technology

Dr Arif Sultan Al Hammadi Image Credit: Supplied

“This marks a new beginning for the use of clean fuel for air travel. We believe the use of biofuel for the commercial flight will make a compelling statement that impacts stakeholders in the aviation, energy and transportation sectors.”

Jasem Al Sayegh, Chief Executive Officer, Adnoc Refining

Jasem Al Sayegh Image Credit: Supplied

“We are proud of the role that Adnoc Refining is playing in carrying out this research for the SBRC [Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium] pilot project. This represents a significant step forward on the journey towards finding a final solution for commercial-scale aviation biofuel.”

Sean Schwinn, Vice-President of Strategy and Market Development for Boeing International

Sean Schwinn Image Credit: Supplied

“Etihad’s [successful] flight proves SEAS [Seawater Energy and Agriculture System] 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.”

Sustainable Aviation Fuels

Although Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) are being produced and used in commercial flights every day, current volumes are very low - less than one per cent of total jet fuel demand, according to The International Air Transport Association (IATA).

IATA believes that if all options to increase SAF production are explored, up to 1 billion passengers will have flown on a SAF-blend flight by 2025 and penetration should be approaching 2 per cent (around 7 billion litres).

Milestones in global aviation

2008: The first test flight with biojet fuel was performed by Virgin Atlantic

Between 2011 and 2015: 22 airlines performed over 2,500 commercial passenger flights with blends of up to 50 per cent biojet fuel from feedstock including used cooking oil, jatropha, camelina, algae and sugarcane.

January 2016: Regular sustainable fuel supply through the common hydrant system started at Oslo Airport.

March 2016: United became the first airline to introduce SAF into normal business operations by commencing daily flights from Los Angeles Airport (LAX), supplied by AltAir.

December 2018: More than 150,000 commercial flights using SAF have been performed.

Several airlines have concluded long-term offtake agreements with biofuel suppliers, most of which are reported as commercially competitive. A number of airports have agreed to supply SAF through their hydrant system

Source: The International Air Transport Association (IATA)

Fast fact

■ 2-hectare facility for pilot project in Masdar City

■ 3 components in facility — aquaculture ponds, plant field and mangroves

■ 2 successful harvests of Salicornia seeds from farm since 2016

■ 200-hectare farm planned in next few years

Global aviation

■ Less than 1%: Share of sustainable fuels in total jet fuel demand

■ Global aviation’s goal for 2050: 50% reduction of CO2 emissions