Issue: Jan 2010


MAJOR BIO FUEL DEVELOPMENT IN ARABIA



by Bob Brooks

Those who have wondered for some time how heavy hitters in OPEC would respond to the new competition from biofuels, can now begin evaluation of a large scale heavily invested development program in Arabia with international energy supply implications.

The Masdar Institute of Science & Technology is now up and running in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, aimed at the fundamental that “alternative energy is seen as the keystone for further development of the Emirates”.This leaves little room for doubt that the petroleum age is seen by those who have profited hugely from it as approaching the tipping point at which renewable fuels emerge as another energy source particularly as “drop-in” motor fuel.

Based on published reports, the Masdar Institute will initially focus on Salicornia, a crop containing oil that thrives on salt water in desert areas provided with abundant sunshine for growth..

The Masdar Institute, with all new facilities, began operations in the fall of 2009 with 88 students planned for increase to 800 students. Provost, John Perkins, appointed in June, 2009 was recruited from the position of dean of the faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at Manchester University, UK. All students will receive free tuition, lodging, a stipend and expenses. The initial 88 students are from 22 countries. Virtually every aspect of bio fuel production, processing and management will be represented by technical specialty departments within the Institute.

The Institute receives academic guidance from and collaboration with MIT. Others providing guidance and support are Boeing Aircraft Company, Etihad Airlines and UOP (leading provider of oil refining technology).

It is explained that Salicornia’s tolerance for salt water and prolific growth potential in desert areas with abundant sunshine is a logical crop for many countries. Limited experimental cultivation of Salicornia is already under way in Saudi Arabia, Eritrea in Africa and the Sonora desert in Mexico. Seeds are being gathered for mass plantings.

Investment in the Masdar Institute bio fuel program may be even greater than the long term $600 million effort at ExonMobile with its partner, Synthetic Genomics, and is expected to take another ten years for perfection of genetically modified algae & cyanobacteria. Other, smaller, U.S. bio fuel programs are reported to be closer to commercial demonstration but so far have unreported economic and other characteristics based on atual volume production. Salicornia is near term and while it requires cultivation, harvesting and processing to recover useful oil, the availability of huge areas of otherwise useless desert land and salt water provide cost effective volume production potential.. The need for subsidies is not indicated.

It is perhaps ironic that huge quantities of petroleum oil were formed millions of years ago in a part of the World that is now also favorable for production of environmentally better new oil. It is also pointed out that while the U.S. approach to development of bio fuel is based on broad scattering of diverse technologies, variety of subsidies, complex requirements and variable geographical considerations, by contrast, the Masdar Institute pulls together all of the many disciplines focused on a biofuel objective derived from comprehensive selection analysis.

As part of the Emirates overall goal, a yearly open meeting and convention termed “World Future Energy Summit” held in Abu Dhabi is focused on “Renewable & Sustainable Energy Alternatives.” Speaking at the current Summit in January,
ExxonMobil VP of R&D, Emil Jacobs, said that one of his firm’s first choice locations for producing algae based biofuel in plexiglass “incubators”(bioreactors), is the Arabian Gulf Coast. A second location he favors is the U.S. Gulf Coast.


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