An Etihad Airways Boeing 787 powered by GE’s GEnx-1B engines was the first commercial flight from the UAE to fly utilising locally produced sustainable fuel. Travelling from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam, the flight marked a key milestone in the development of cleaner alternatives to aviation fuel.
Produced from plants grown in saltwater, the project was spearheaded by the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), a non-profit entity established by Masdar Institute that is part of Khalifa University of Science and Technology.
The project’s partners, which includes Etihad Airways, Boeing, ADNOC, Safran, GE and BAUER Resources, was focused on proving the concept of a comprehensive value chain that is centred around the Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS).
The platform holds great potential, not only for the region’s aviation sector, but also the oil & gas industry, food production, and may also serve as an agricultural alternative in the UAE.
His Excellency Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, 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.”
Overseen by SBRC, the SEAS pilot facility was launch back in March 2016. At the heart of the solution are salt-tolerant halophyte plants that exist in desert conditions and are not reliant on fresh water or arable land to grow.
It is hoped over the next few years, the system will continue to scale reaching roughly 200 hectares, at which point it will become viable for commercial implementation.
Since being certified for commercial use back in 2011, an estimated 160,000 passenger flights have flown utilising a blend of sustainable and traditional jet fuel. The advent of sustainable aviation fuel will help support the aviation market in reaching its goal of capping the growth of carbon emissions by 2020, as well as reducing the levels by half of the recorded figure in 2005, by 2050.
Tony Douglas, Group CEO of Etihad Aviation Group, said: “This is 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.”
Adding his own viewpoint to the project, Sean Schwinn, VP of Strategy and Market Development for Boeing International, said: “Etihad’s flight proves SEAS 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.”