Desert ecosystem produces sustainable food and fuel

A new desert ecosystem in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is attempting to produce sustainable food and fuel sources. The biofuel research facility in Abu Dhabi is the world’s first of its kind.

The desert ecosystem in Masdar in Abu Dhabi, UAE, is tackling food and water security, as well as looking for a sustainable source of aviation fuel.

Using lands irrigated by seawater to produce bioenergy for aviation and to raise farmed fish and shrimp for food, it is the world’s first research facility to grow both food and fuel in a desert ecosystem.

The facility was created by sustainable solutions provider CH2M and its clients – the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology and the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium.

CH2M’s global water business group president Peter Nicol commented in a statement: “We have drawn on the knowledge and expertise of our global technology leaders in the fields of agri-engineering and science to design the complex elements of this project.

“We look forward to its successful operation and the scalability of the system being realised.”

The innovative system uses seawater to raise fish and shrimp for food. The nutrient-rich wastewater then fertilises plants rich in oils that can be harvested for aviation biofuel production.

The plants are salt-tolerant halophytes that thrive in arid conditions like those common in the UAE. The wastewater is diverted into a cultivated mangrove forest, further providing carbon storage, before the naturally filtered and treated effluent is discharged into the sea.

According to CH2M, the goal of the research facility is to demonstrate the viability of an integrated bioenergy production system for essential food and fuel production, but that also demonstrates suitable land use, reduced carbon emissions and wastewater clean-up.

If the technology proves viable, further expansion could lead to a 200-hectare demonstration site.

Photo credit: Dr Norbert Heidenbluth/ CC BY 2.0

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