The pilot project, run by a consortium led by the Masdar Institute, features sea-water aquaculture ponds for shrimp and fish production. Water and “waste nutrients” from the sea fauna will go to irrigate and feed halophyte (salt-tolerant) plants, which will then be processed and turned into jet fuel, with waste water going to a mangrove plantation.
Covering 20,000 square metres, the project is set to run for between three to five years. Construction of the facilities is now underway, and is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year.
Sustainable food and fuel
“The integrated seawater bioenergy pilot plant is a testament to Masdar Institute’s commitment to finding truly sustainable solutions to real world problems, like energy and food security, and freshwater scarcity. The Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System produces fish, which can be used for food, and biomass for energy, without using fresh water, in an energy efficient way,” said Alejandro Rios Galvan, director of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium and professor of practice at the Masdar Institute.
The institute’s partners in the project are Etihad Airways, Boeing, Honeywell UOP, General Electric, and aviation service firms Takreer and Sakran, suggesting the focus is towards the biofuel elements, rather than aquaculture. However, Abu Dhabi has also shown significant interest in aquaculture in recent years, and techniques to combine it with fuel production will, if successful and economically productive, help boost the sector.
GCC aquaculture booming
In 2013, Emirates AquaTech opened the world’s largest caviar farm in Abu Dhabi, capable of producing 35 tonnes of caviar and 700 tonnes of sturgeon meat a year. Other GCC countries are also investing heavily in aquaculture, including Oman with US$330m-worth of projects, and Saudi Arabia, which announced a US$10.6bn aquaculture investment.
“The UAE and the world need renewable and sustainable fuels. That is why Masdar Institute is proud to be leading the SBRC and launching the Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System, which is more than an aviation biofuel production facility; it represents a holistic approach to sustainably produce food and bioenergy in a way that does not compete with fresh water and arable land. We are pleased to begin construction of the world’s first integrated seawater bioenergy pilot plant – a truly innovative project to mark the UAE’s Year of Innovation,” said Fred Moavenzadeh, president of the Masdar Institute.