Qatar University has said its groundbreaking research into the development of sustainable biofuels, carried out in collaboration with the Gulf state's airline, is at a "critical" stage.
As Qatar hosts the UN climate change conference COP18, the university outlined the state-backed QR45.5m biofuel project which it said was the only one of its kind in the region.
The project, in collaboration with Qatar Airways and Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), aims to produce affordable, sustainable biofuels which do not use valuable arable land and which can be produced efficiently in the punishing climate of Qatar.
The fuels could provide an alternative source of energy for use by the airline industry, the university said in a statement.
If successfully produced on a commercial scale, the discovery will significantly reduce one of the airline industry's biggest fixed costs and provide a sustainable, clean fuel where carbon dioxide is recycled rather than accumulating in the atmosphere, it added.
The research team said it has isolated multiple forms of single-celled photosynthetic organisms (cyanobacteria and microalgae), unique to Qatar.
These are abundant in the waters of Qatar and grow well in the extreme heat, strong sunlight and highly saline waters of Qatar.
The research group successfully grew these cultures in the lab, extracting the fat - lipids - to make fuel, while carbohydrate is used to make bioethanol.
They have now scaled up their tests to tanks of 1,500 litres situated outdoors at the university's research farm in Al Khor, north of Doha.
Having grown them successfully for six weeks, the experiment is now being scaled up even further - to 25,000 litre, specially-designed outdoor research ponds.
The step after that will be the construction of a pilot plant on a much larger scale - 1.5 million litres. The aviation industry has been keenly following the project throughout its stages.
Project manager Hareb al-Jabri said: "We are at an exciting and critical point in this project. If successful, it could help transform the international aviation industry.
"This project is a real example of successful state-backed collaboration, to find sustainable ways of enabling Qatar's development which will have an impact across the world."
Biofuels project director Dr Malcolm Potts added: "We are trying to develop a biofuel industry here in Qatar, using new technologies not found anywhere else in the world."
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