Etihad Airways has flown the world’s first passenger flight using sustainable fuel made from a plant that grows in saltwater. Fish raised at a unique ecosystem in the United Arab Emirates fertilize the plant and also provide food for the desert nation.
The Jan. 15 flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner culminated a three-year research project supported by Etihad, Boeing Research & Technology, Commercial Airplanes Environmental Strategy and several other organizations. The project seeks to develop aviation biofuel to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and lessen the UAE’s need to import nearly 85 percent of its food.
“Etihad’s flight proves the Seawater Energy and Agriculture System is a game-changer that can substantially benefit air transport and the world,” said Sean Schwinn, Boeing International vice president of strategy and market development. “The research and technology shows significant promise to transform coastal deserts into productive farmland supporting food security and cleaner skies.”
Biofuel for the flight was derived from oil in Salicornia plants, which were grown on a 4.9-acre farm at Khalifa University of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City. Khalifa University said it’s looking to expand the facility and increase production based on this initial success.
“This is a significant milestone for the UAE and its key industries,” said Tony Douglas, Group CEO of Etihad Aviation Group. “Etihad is fully committed to this pioneering project, which demonstrates a successful proof of concept that is local, viable, cost-effective and sustainable.”
Using sustainable feedstock to produce the fuel significantly reduces life-cycle carbon emissions compared to fossil fuel. The biofuel is blended directly with jet fuel and does not require any modifications to aircraft, engines or airport fueling systems.
More than 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. Biofuel represents a significant opportunity to help aviation meet its goals to halt the growth of carbon emissions by 2020 and cut them to half of what they were in 2005 by 2050.
Boeing works with partners around the world to develop regional supplies of biofuel. The Abu Dhabi facility is funded by the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium. Managed by Khalifa University, consortium members include Etihad Airways, Boeing, ADNOC Refining, Bauer Resources, Safran and GE Aviation.
By Paul McElroy