There was a telling emphasis on water and food security issues when Airbus, EADS Innovation Works and the large China natural gas and biofuel company ENN signed an agreement concerning the production and testing of algal aviation fuel at the Zhuhai Air Show this week.
The headline interest
in the story was the intention to fly an airliner in China in 2013 using fuel refined from oil harvested from microalgae.
But China's population density, the pressures on its arable land and water supplies, and the enormous demand that rising prosperity is placing on its need for energy from all sources were apparent in the country's media reporting of the event, competing for space as it had to with the political power transition then underway in Beijing.
Dr Zhongxue Gan, the chief technical officer of the ENN Group, said in a statement that, “Applying algae biotechnology to produce clean energy using industrial waste, including CO2 and wastewater, is part of our carbon recycle program.
"Certain species of algae contain high amounts of oil. This oil can be extracted, processed and refined. Microalgae reproduce rapidly and create at least 30 times more organic substance per cultivation area than, for example, rapeseed. Their cultivation does not compete with food production. Algae can be grown on poor quality land using non potable or saltwater. Their main advantage is that microalgae are consuming large amounts of CO2."
ENN's part in the project will be based on a high tech but micro scale microalgae production and refining plant with an output at present of only 10 tonnes of fuel a year.
Once it demonstrates that it is turning this tank grown oil this into an alternative fuel to aviation grade kerosene, production will be scaled up with a view to lowering its price to levels where it will inhibit price rises in conventional refined kerosene and become a blend that will in effect, lower the amount of fossil sourced carbon emitted by jet engines, and eventually, to zero.
The quest for such an outcome is world wide. EADS and Airbus, and Boeing, and various energy company funded projects similar to the ENN involvement, are all pursuing algal breeds of liquid fuels, and not just for airliners, but land vehicles, ships, power plants, manufacturing processes, and the massive requirements for domestic heating fuel in the northern world.
They seek a carbon neutral outcome, in that the processes recycle the carbon used by the algae through the natural carbon cycles, instead of adding to the growing carbon overburden in the atmosphere and oceans through the burning of fossil-carbon releasing fuels.