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Bioenergy pilot project under way


Biodiesel. (Photo: Stock File)

Click on the flag for more information about United Arab EmiratesUNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Thursday, January 22, 2015, 00:30 (GMT + 9)
International Mechanical and Electrical Company LLC. from Abu Dhabi was awarded a contract to launch a pilot project to produce renewable bioenergy and food sustainably.
The centre that will lead the research is the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST), and the plan is funded by the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), aircraft manufacturer Boeing, Etihad Airways, among other companies.
The undertaking aims at producing aviation biofuels and food using desert land and saline seawater.
While biofuel production from vegetable oils is no longer a challenge, producing biofuel crops with minimal environmental impact is.
The facility will consist of six saltwater aquaculture ponds where fish and shrimp will be grown.
The nutrients produced in the aquaculture process will be used to grow salt-tolerant crops as water circulates into eight crop fields, The National informed.
The system involves pumping seawater to aquaculture ponds where shrimp and other fish grow. The fish waste released into the water, rich in nutrients, is used to fertilize halophytes (plants adapted to grow in salt water). Biomass and oils produced in these fields will be harvested.
In a first stage, scientists will cultivate salt-tolerant plants that are non-native to the UAE. However, they could later consider growing local ones.
Dr Alejandro Rios, director at the SBRC, explains, “We estimate that initially, we can get about two tonnes of oil seed and 18 tonnes of biomass per hectare. But with simple agronomic adjustments, we expect to double the yield in about two to three years, and then be able to scale up the project.”
The goal is to have an installation of 200 hectares so more biofuels can be produced.
During the time the project runs, scientists seek to learn the optimal temperature and salinity thresholds for the plants and animals to be produced, as well as whether the nutrients produced in the aquaculture plants can completely replace fertiliser.
“The ideal would be that we do not need any fertiliser, which would be the best-case scenario. And if we do need some fertiliser, we need to make sure that it does not leak out to the ocean because that would generate a whole set of problems that we are trying to avoid,” Rios added. 
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