Tuesday, October 06, 2009

UAE Emirs Pursue Bio-Energy via Halophytes

* True halophytes are plants that thrive when given water having greater than 0.5% NaCl. A small number of plant lineages have evolved structural, phenological, physiological, and biochemical mechanisms for salt resistance, and true halophytes have evolved convergently in numerous, related families.
* Xerohalophytes are the desert species of halophytes. Desert and coastal halophytes possess the same mechanisms for dealing with salt toxicity and salt stress. Species living in both saline habitats commonly belong to the same phylogenetic lineages.
* There are marine phanerogams (seed-bearing plants) that live completely submerged in seawater. _UCLABotany
Most people have the wrong idea about biofuels and bioenergy. Biofuels do not have to be produced from food, and there are essentially no limits to the surface area that can be devoted to growing biomass for fuels. Biofuels are not a threat to food supplies nor will they encroach upon rich, vital croplands. Biomass can be grown in the desert using salt water for irrigation -- they can even be grown in the ocean itself!
Today, Boeing and UOP announced an initiative, with the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group consortium and the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, to examine the overall potential for sustainable, large-scale production of biofuels made from salicornia bigelovii and saltwater mangroves – plants known as halophytes.

The halophyte study will evaluate aquaculture management and practices, land use and energy requirements and identify any potential adverse ecological or social impacts associated with using halophytes for energy development, specifically for aviation biofuel development. _BiofuelsDigest
The UAE appear to be taking a long-term view of energy needs in the Gulf area. While the UAE is quickly ratcheting up plans to build a fleet of nuclear reactors, they are also looking a other alternatives to dependency on oil -- such as solar and biofuels. Biofuels in a desert, you ask? Why, yes.

The growing of crops, plants, and biomass depends upon water, of course. Part of the UAE biofuels effort will utilise desalinated fresh water. But another large part will be oriented toward halophytes and algae. Salt water and brackish water are much cheaper than desalinated fresh water.

I am not surprised to see Boeing involved in the venture, since there are very few alternatives to liquid hydrocarbon fuels for large airliners and other aircraft of similar size. In the quest for energy from biology, Boeing joins Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell, Statoil, Dow, DuPont, Petrobras, Bill Gates, and a score of big corporations and investors.

The Persian Gulf area has much more oil yet to be discovered. The region has not been explored for oil nearly to the extent that North America has been explored. But there will come a time when even "easy oil" will find it difficult to compete with alternative forms of energy. That is when Peak Oil will finally occur in a meaningful sense. Peak Oil due to lack of demand.

Cross-posted to Al Fin

Extra -- More on Biomass:
Biomass – or, according to one definition, "organic matter that was living recently" which could be anything from "wood to sewage sludge, animal slurries and crops grown for energy purposes" – is still only just taking off in the UK. However, over the past 15 years, such systems have been widely adopted in Austria, Germany, Denmark and elsewhere. In fact, Austria takes a staggering 40% of its heating from renewable energy sources – by contrast, the UK has been slow to pick up the biomass baton and takes less than 1%.

...In its UK Renewable Energy Strategy white paper, published this July, the government spells out a big role for biomass in helping meet a renewable energy target of up to 14% of the UK's heating needs by 2020. In fact, using biomass makes remarkable sense – carbon is first taken out of the atmosphere by plants during growth and then put back through burning. Net carbon emissions are minimal. "Biomass technology in its early stages," says Allen. "There are very few people in the UK doing this. It is an early adopters' technology market." _Bioenergy
While faux environmentalists whine about "mountains of garbage", real men and women -- and real environmentalists -- are setting in motion the process to turn those mountains of garbage into mountains of energy.

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Blogger John Nicklin said...

Great post. I do have one concern with biofuel, not as you propose it in this article, but as it is currently being pursued in some places. That concern is that it does compete with food production where crops like corn are diverted to make ethanol for fuel. Using halophytes on the otherhand may be a more sustainable resource without the food competion factor.

8:57 PM  
Blogger al fin said...


There will be enough roadblocks in the way of replacing petroleum and coal dependencies without having to worry about driving up food prices.

Some of the increases in last year's commodities prices that were blamed on ethanol production was actually due to other costs such as energy costs. American farmers, at least, produced more than enough corn to offset what was diverted to ethanol production.

Corn ethanol will eventually shift to cellulosic ethanol as the right catalysts, enzymes, and processes are developed.

In the ocean, you can grow a whale of a lot of biomass from micro- and macro-algae.

Dry coastal zones are ideal for salty and brackish water irrigation of halophytes.

9:59 AM  
Blogger John Nicklin said...

If we look at the current corn=ethanol regime as a blip on the radar and not as a continuing trend, which I think is correct as you have stated, then we probably have nothing to worry about in terms of the food angle.

The use of other, non-food, feedstock is starting to come of age as you have predicted for several years now. As Martha Stewart would say "its a good thing."

Keep up the good work.

11:56 AM  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks very much.

11:36 AM  

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