06 October 2009

Halophytes -- a Limitless World of Biomass

* True halophytes are plants that thrive when given water having greater than 0.5% NaCl. A small number of plant lineages have evolved structural, phenological, physiological, and biochemical mechanisms for salt resistance, and true halophytes have evolved convergently in numerous, related families.
* Xerohalophytes are the desert species of halophytes. Desert and coastal halophytes possess the same mechanisms for dealing with salt toxicity and salt stress. Species living in both saline habitats commonly belong to the same phylogenetic lineages.
* There are marine phanerogams (seed-bearing plants) that live completely submerged in seawater. _UCLABotany
Most people have the wrong idea about biofuels and bioenergy. Biofuels do not have to be produced from food, and there are essentially no limits to the surface area that can be devoted to growing biomass for fuels. Biofuels are not a threat to food supplies nor will they encroach upon rich, vital croplands. Biomass can be grown in the desert using salt water for irrigation -- they can even be grown in the ocean itself!
Today, Boeing and UOP announced an initiative, with the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group consortium and the Masdar Institute in Abu Dhabi, to examine the overall potential for sustainable, large-scale production of biofuels made from salicornia bigelovii and saltwater mangroves – plants known as halophytes.

The halophyte study will evaluate aquaculture management and practices, land use and energy requirements and identify any potential adverse ecological or social impacts associated with using halophytes for energy development, specifically for aviation biofuel development. _BiofuelsDigest
The UAE appear to be taking a long-term view of energy needs in the Gulf area. While the UAE is quickly ratcheting up plans to build a fleet of nuclear reactors, they are also looking a other alternatives to dependency on oil -- such as solar and biofuels. Biofuels in a desert, you ask? Why, yes.

The growing of crops, plants, and biomass depends upon water, of course. Part of the UAE biofuels effort will utilise desalinated fresh water. But another large part will be oriented toward halophytes and algae. Salt water and brackish water are much cheaper than desalinated fresh water.

I am not surprised to see Boeing involved in the venture, since there are very few alternatives to liquid hydrocarbon fuels for large airliners and other aircraft of similar size. In the quest for energy from biology, Boeing joins Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell, Statoil, Dow, DuPont, Petrobras, Bill Gates, and a score of big corporations and investors.

The Persian Gulf area has much more oil yet to be discovered. The region has not been explored for oil nearly to the extent that North America has been explored. But there will come a time when even "easy oil" will find it difficult to compete with alternative forms of energy. That is when Peak Oil will finally occur in a meaningful sense. Peak Oil due to lack of demand.

Cross-posted to Al Fin Energy

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Blogger kurt9 said...

The Boeing UAE deal means that the Arabs not not complete idiots. They realize sooner or later that the oil will run out and they need to be prepared to meet that day. Also, think of oil as a cash crop. You don't eat your cash crop. You sell it at a premium, then use the cash to buy the other things you want. Likewise, the Arabs should not burn their own oil to make electricity. They should use nuclear power to make electricity and use all of their own to earn foreign reserves.

Tuesday, 06 October, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

You may want to check the demographic makeup of the emirates. The UAE is the least arab of the arab states.

The UAE is tiny compared to SA. They definitely need to diversify away from oil, since there is only so much exploration that can be done on limited lands.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has barely been explored for oil compared to North America. North America has seen about a thousand times more exploratory wells than the entire Persian Gulf area.

Why should they look for more big fields. They have their hands full limiting current production so the prices don't drop too low.

Tuesday, 06 October, 2009  
Blogger read it said...

I don't know if you have mentioned this, but it is my understanding that OPEC struggles to get its members to actually limit production. Each wants to maximize production when prices are higher. So they agree to limit in order to raise the price, but then they cheat and produce more than they agreed to. Oil traders know how much supply there should be, so when they see there is more supply, they know they are cheating.

Anyway, from what I have seen, energy companies have only been against using food crops as fuel. These salt loving plants, algae etc. aren't food, so I would figure they would be less of a PR problem.

Wednesday, 07 October, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Yes, Silly, even as incompetent as the nationalised OPEC oil companies are, they must be restrained so as not to overproduce.

Imagine if international oil companies still controlled the fields -- bringing market discipline and advanced technologies to the job?

Peak Oil Doom would be out of work for the rest of the century. ;-)

Wednesday, 07 October, 2009  

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