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The Seawater Energy and Agriculture System

The UAE is a place where water scarcity is prevalent, and food security is of utmost importance. 97% of the earth’s water is in the oceans, with only the remaining 3% in freshwater. Arid land is abundant in the UAE, and developing biofuel technologies based on arid land would not only serve the UAE, but also the wider world that is in need of bioenergy that does not compete with fertile land and fresh water resources.

The Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS) is the flagship project of the SBRC. This project combines an integrated system of aquaculture, halo-agriculture, and mangrove silviculture to produce sustainable biofuels for aviation and other byproducts such as seafood. In the system’s operation, water is pumped from the sea to supply the aquaculture ponds to breed shrimp and fish. The nutrient rich water is used to irrigate and fertilize Salicornia fields, where salt-loving (halophytic) plants that are capable of growing in arid land with saltwater irrigation will be harvested for their oilseeds and can later be converted into aviation biofuel. The leftover seed meal can be used as feed for the fish and shrimp, or as a source of protein for animal feed. Finally, the effluent coming from the Salicornia fields will be channeled to mangrove swamps, which filter the water before it reaches the sea again. The mangroves also act as a carbon sink due to their extensive root structure.

The SBRC broke ground on its 2 hectare pilot facility for its flagship project, the Seawater Energy and Agriculture System (SEAS), on Thursday, 11 June 2015, at Masdar City. The pilot is a facility that aims to evaluate the process of growing seafood and Salicornia Bigelovii using marine aquaculture wastewater for the purpose of generating useful products such as food and biofuels, and to determine the technical parameters for an efficient operation to scale up the concept to commercial levels. The pilot SEAS consists of six aquaculture ponds, eight Salicornia fields and four mangrove swamps, in addition to the related infrastructure needed to manage inflows and outflows of the system, and accommodate irrigation and periodic fluid disposal to maintain the salt balance. The facility will be powered by solar energy.

The SEAS pilot facility’s main goal is to produce an alternative biomass resource that can later be converted to aviation biofuels, and to demonstrate that the integrated process is sustainable and environmentally responsible with respect to land and water use, carbon emissions and discharge of other byproducts, such as aquaculture waste products. This will be the world’s first bioenergy pilot project to use desert land and saltwater to sustainably produce both bioenergy and food.