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Roberto Gonzalez, President of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and Jane Hupe, Chief Environment Branch, ICAO, with a Qatar University Biofuels team scientist.
From left: Hareb Al Jabri, Manager of the Qatar University Biofuels Project, Dr Malcolm Potts, Director of the Biofuels Project, Roberto Gonzalez, President of ICAO, and Jane Hupe, Chief Environment Branch, ICAO, at the press briefing yesterday.
DOHA: Qatar University (QU) yesterday revealed the progress of its groundbreaking research on developing sustainable alternative biofuels for aviation, on the eve of the UN Climate Change Conference COP-18, which opens here today.
The QU research team and officials gave Roberto Gonzalez, President of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) a tour of the facilities.
“We really welcome this project. It shows that different solutions are being applied to different areas around the globe – focusing on sustainability by using resources natural to the surroundings. What really stands out with the Qatar biofuels project is that it is state-backed. It is a good example in the Arab region, showing a commitment to sustainability and the environment,” said Gonzales, who was impressed by the project.
This was the first time the team publicly detailed the progress of the state-backed QR45.5m biofuel project - the first time in the region. The university’s project, in collaboration with Qatar Airways and Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) is now into its third year. The research team which is part of QU College of Arts and Sciences has developed state-of-the-art facilities which are the best in the GCC and competitive internationally for this type of research.
The aim of the project is to find a way of producing affordable, sustainable biofuels which do not rely on the use of valuable arable land and which can be produced efficiently in the harsh climate of Qatar.
These fuels should provide an alternative source of energy, specifically for use by the airline industry. If successfully produced on a commercial scale, the discovery will have international ramifications - significantly reducing one of the airline industry’s biggest fixed costs and providing a sustainable, environmentally-friendly fuel where carbon dioxide is recycled rather than accumulated in the atmosphere.
The research team isolated multiple forms of single-celled photosynthetic organisms (cyanobacteria and microalgae) unique to the country, abundant in the waters of Qatar which grow well in the extreme heat, strong sunlight and highly saline waters of Qatar.
The research group grew these cultures, eliminating weaker variations which do not respond so well to the Qatari environment and scaled up growth from small test-tubes to water tanks to monitor their growth. Then the lipids are extracted from the cultures to make fuel, while carbohydrate is used to make bioethanol.
The team then scaled up their tests to tanks of 1,500 litres situated outdoors, at QU’s research farm in Al Khor.
Having grown them successfully, the experiment is now being scaled up even further – to 25,000 litres, specially-designed outdoor research ponds currently being prepared by the team.
If successful, a pre-commercialisation pilot plant will be constructed on a much larger scale – 1.5m litres. The aviation industry has been keenly following the project throughout its stages.
Gonzalez and his delegation visited the labs to see first-hand how the project had developed. He was joined by QU President Prof Sheikha Abdulla Al Misnad, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dr Eiman Mustafawi, Vice President for Research Dr Hassan Al Derham, Head of the Department of Biological Sciences Dr Samir Jaoua and members of the biofuels research team.
“As Qatar’s national university, we are always mindful of our role in advancing technology for the greater good of society. This project plays a key role in Qatar’s wider commitment to developing in an environmentally sustainable way and, if successful, will have benefits across the world,” said Professor Al Misnad.