Etihad breakthrough: sustainable biofuel flight to Amsterdam

We missed this announcement a few weeks back. Best to keep in mind that Air New Zealand has already pioneered the first jet flight using bio fuel, although they did not carry passengers. Virgin Airlines has also been working on the subject and has also flown a jet with bio fuel.  The following story from Peter Needham and etravelglobal is good to hear, especially from a Gulf State as they are not known for their ‘eco sense’ – think inside ski slopes in the desert, who really needs those in that environment.

As the video states, the next challenge will be scaling the process up and that is where we will see if the economics stack up.

In a striking aviation breakthrough, Etihad has conducted the world’s first commercial flight powered by a revolutionary, locally produced sustainable fuel derived from plants grown in saltwater.

The flight appears to be a major step towards sustainability in air travel and reduced carbon emissions. Khalifa University, Etihad Airways, Boeing, Adnoc, Safran, GE, and Bauer Resources worked together to develop a comprehensive sustainable aviation fuel. Etihad then used the fuel in of its Boeing 787 Dreamliners, powered by GE’s GEnx-1B engines.

The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), a non-profit entity established by Masdar Institute that is part of Khalifa University of Science and Technology, made the announcement yesterday. The airline said research had shown that jet fuel could be produced using desert land and seawater through an innovative agricultural process. The project supports the UAE’s diversification plans and commitment to sustainability. The process has implications for Australia, a country with no end of desert land and seawater.

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. Etihad Aviation Group’s group chief executive, Tony Douglas said the breakthrough market “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.”

Sustainable fuel for the flight was derived from oil in Salicornia plants, which were grown on the two-hectare 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. 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.

In a statement issued yesterday, Etihad proclaimed the flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam as “a major milestone in the development of a clean, alternative aviation fuel to reduce carbon emissions. “The initiative also addresses food security in the UAE through the farming of seafood as a core element in the process.

Abu Dhabi’s Minister of Climate Change and Environment, Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, 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.”

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.

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