Growing aviation biofuel in coastal deserts

┬ČIn the short-term, fossil-free long-haul aviation presents a problem and an opportunity. Using plant based fuels is the most feasible solution, but competition with food production or biodiversity on arable land is inhibiting.
If arid land with low biodiversity and population could be used for the biofuel production, it would both sequester carbon and make biofuel-based aviation possible.
There is a primed market, as institutions such as universities and a subgroup of individuals find their aviation carbon footprint embarrassing, yet unavoidable. If they would be presented with an option of doubling the resources they spend on flights in return for a fossil-free mind, many are likely to be interested. As fuel makes up up to 50 of costs for aviation companies, that would make a three time increase in the fuel production price possible with unaffected profit margins.
Here, I propose that two promising technical solutions are combined to turn arid coastal areas into biofuel farms: solar desalination utilizing vacuum towers and biomass- and fertilizer production through seaweed farming.
There is currently intense research into the use of vacuum towers for solar desalination, which could find widespread uses, but commercial development of these solutions are slow.
Seaweed farming, as well as the use of seaweed to improve soil quality has a long history. Massive-scale seaweed farming could by itself prove a viable carbon sink, buffer sea pH changes and provide safe havens for fish stocks, and be raw-material for chemical processes. Current farming techniques are however not efficient enough to allow for massive up-scaling.
Feedback dynamics: if these techniques would be optimized together, the price for vacuum towers, farmed seaweed and biofuel for aviation are all likely to fall rapidly, thus expanding the markets for all three. This has the potential of changing the world in the coming decade.

 

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Author

Dr Jakob Theorell

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