Salicornia is an alga that grows in salty waters and whose seeds can produce biofuels abundantly. Masdar Institute researchers, along with several companies like Boeing, Etihad Airways, and UOP Honeywell devised a method of growing salicornia for getting biofuels out of it and keeping the CO2 balance in proper equilibrium.
Their goal is to produce the salicornia biofuel without the shortcomings of other biofuel production techniques: using large amounts of fresh water and taking away land from food crops. Scott Kennedy, the project leader from the Masdar Institute, projected this method to use saltwater taken from the sea by digging a canal. After that, they will fill that canal with caged fish and shrimp and isolate it from the rest of the sea with a mangrove forest, which acts like a barrier. Then they will put salicornia to grow and feed with fish feces, thus eliminating the need for fertilizers, who are great energy consumers and who ruin that biofuels’ overall carbon dioxide balance.The technique is called “seawater aquaculture”.
Normally, this would be an “environmental disaster”, but isolating the area from the rest of the sea will stop salicornia from spreading and will keep it all in a concentrated place.
The seeds of salicornia are then to be pressed using a technology that is similar to that used for other oil seed crops, such as corn or sunflower. The technology provided by UOP Honeywell will make the salicornia biofuel suitable for blending with jet fuel, while the rest of the plant can be further used to produce other fuels, or burned for electricity generation.
The researchers say that the salicornia biofuel production process is carbon-neutral, unlike other plants’, who need fertilizers. This one produces its own.
An issue the researchers are confronted with is what tools they’ll use to harvest the salicornia seeds, because the very salted water would ruin any classic harvesting machine. All in all, the salicornia biofuel could be competitive with petroleum-based fuels, without adding anything to the overall carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.