Etihad Airways flies world's first flight fuelled by UAE plants

Flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam marks a major milestone in the development of a clean, alternative aviation fuel
Etihad Airways flies world's first flight fuelled by UAE plants
Etihad Airways has been at the forefront of aviation biofuel research in the region and this marks the first time that a flight has been operated on fuel derived from plants grown in saltwater.
By Sam Bridge
Wed 16 Jan 2019 02:11 PM

The world’s first commercial flight has taken place using locally produced sustainable fuel on an Etihad Airways Boeing 787 plane.

The announcement was made 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 flight from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam marked a major milestone in the development of a clean, alternative aviation fuel to reduce carbon emissions.

The initiative also addresses food security in the UAE through the farming of seafood as a core element in the process, a statement said.

Etihad Airways has been at the forefront of aviation biofuel research in the region and this marks the first time that a flight has been operated on fuel derived from plants grown in saltwater.

Tony Douglas, Group CEO 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.”

Sustainable fuel for the flight was derived from oil in Salicornia plants, which were grown on the two-hectare SEAS farm in Masdar City.

The SEAS is the world’s first desert ecosystem designed to produce fuel and food in saltwater. Fish and shrimp raised at the facility provide nutrients for the plants as well as contribute to the UAE’s food production.

Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, said: “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.”

Dr Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, executive vice-president, Khalifa University of Science and Technology, said: “The landmark achievement by the SBRC, part of Masdar Institute at Khalifa University, and partners marks a new beginning for the use of clean fuel for air travel.

"The collaboration partners and Masdar Institute researchers have contributed significantly to achieve this success and we believe the use of biofuel for this commercial flight will make a compelling statement that impacts stakeholders in the aviation, energy and transportation sectors.”

Using sustainable feedstock to produce the fuel significantly reduces life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions compared to fossil fuel. The biofuel is blended directly with jet fuel and does not require any modifications to aircraft, engines or airport fuelling delivery systems.

Approximately 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.

Sustainable aviation fuel represents a significant opportunity to help aviation meet its goals to cap the growth of carbon emissions by 2020 and cut levels to half of what they were in 2005 by 2050.

Operated by the SBRC, the SEAS pilot facility became operational in March 2016. Salt-tolerant halophyte plants that thrive in desert conditions and do not require fresh water or arable land to grow are nurtured there. After wastewater from the fish fertilises the plants, it is diverted into a cultivated mangrove forest. This further removes nutrients and provides valuable carbon storage before the naturally filtered and treated effluent is discharged back into the sea.

Over the course of the next few years, the system is expected to scale up to 200 hectares in the move towards full-scale commercial implementation.

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