With great appreciation to the Masdar PR crew and to Dr Alejandro Ríos Galván, Director of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), I was recently granted the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Alejandro on the sidelines of Abu Dhabi Ascent* about halophyte biofuel and the performance failure of tar sands oil. If you don’t recall seeing my first story on this topic, it’s worth noting that this is the only biofuel option that I see as truly deserving of the title “breakthrough.” Well, if it ends up delivering as expected. From what I can tell, all signs do look good so far and in theory, as you can read in my first story or learn in the video interview below.
Leading the Masdar Institute research on halophyte biofuels, Alejandro was able to confirm, from the research side of things, what Darin Morgan of Boeing told two other bloggers and myself in January. He also answered some follow-up questions that I thought would be interesting to you here at CleanTechnica. Here are my videos from that chat, followed by bullet-points summarizing the key points of the discussion (just note that the volume levels on the three videos ended up varying quite a bit):
- Processing crude oil coming out of tar sands is much more difficult and “refineries are not that well retrofitted to process that type of product.” So, the resulting product is not as optimal as in the past. Retrofitting a refinery is a complicated process and usually takes a few years, so what’s happening is that oil companies are producing less jet fuel and the jet fuel that they are producing is not of a very high quality. “It’s barely complying with the specification that jet fuel has to comply with.” (1st video)
- An ironic thing is that new, synthetic biofuels have to pass quite rigorous tests in order to be used as jet fuel, and it’s presumed that if tar sands oil had to pass the same tests, it wouldn’t actually be able to. In other words, they end up less energy intensive and less pure than biofuels. (3rd video)
- Halophyte research has actually been going on since the 1960s, when scientists were starting to get worried about the rising sea levels and climate scientist Carl Hodges had the idea to build/dredge seawater rivers inland. Hodges also tried to figure out what could be done with such seawater, such as combining aquaculture and agriculture. That’s how he came across halophytes, which grow along the coasts of deserts. He realized that, using these halophytes, he could produce oil. (2nd video)
- However, very little formal academic research has occurred around the topic of halophyte cultivation and halophyte biofuel. Working in the aviation industry in Mexico, Alejandro met Carl Hodges and the seeds of today’s work on halophyte research started. It didn’t really go anywhere in Alejandro’s work in Mexico, but he came to Masdar Institute approximately 1½ years ago to work on this topic. (2nd video)
- The big questions that this Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (a partnership between Masdar Institute, Etihad Airways, Honeywell’s UOP, and some others) asked were if halophyte biofuel production could be scaled and if it could be scaled sustainably.
- Halophyte biofuel, if it can scale, also moves away from the whole “food vs fuel” biofuel debate/controversy.
- Actually, aquaculture waste, a major problem, can be used as fertilizer for halophyte biofuel. This is a big deal considering the rapid growth of aquaculture.
*My trip to Abu Dhabi Ascent is being covered by Masdar.
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