Qatar varsity unveils new biofuels project
Doha, December 2, 2012
Qatar University (QU) has revealed groundbreaking research into the development of sustainable biofuels, as the country hosts the UN climate change conference COP18.
The state-backed QR45.5 million ($12.5 million) biofuel project is the only one of its kind in the region, a statement from QU said.
The university’s project, in collaboration with Qatar Airways and Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) is now into its third year. From a standing start, the research team has developed state-of-the-art facilities which are the best in the GCC and competitive internationally for this type of research.
The project aims to produce affordable, sustainable biofuels which do not use valuable arable land and which can be produced efficiently in Qatar. These fuels should provide an alternative source of energy for use by the airline industry, the statement said.
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 accumulating in the atmosphere.
The research team isolated multiple forms of single-celled photosynthetic organisms (cyanobacteria and microalgae), unique to the country. These are abundant in the waters of Qatar – they have been found in environments such as the marinas at the Pearl-Qatar to the wastewaters of Abu Nakhla - and grow well in the extreme heat, strong sunlight and highly saline waters.
The research group successfully grew these cultures in the lab, extracting the fat – lipids – to make fuel, while carbohydrate is used to make bioethanol. They then scaled up their tests to tanks of 1,500 litres situated outdoors at QU’s research farm in Al Khor, north of Doha.
Having grown them successfully for six weeks, the experiment is now being scaled up even further – to 25,000 litre, specially-designed outdoor research ponds, it said.
The step after that will be the construction of a pilot plant on a much larger scale – 1.5 million litres. The aviation industry has been keenly following the project throughout its stages.
Hareb al-Jabri, project manager, said: “We are at an exciting and critical point in this project. If successful, it could help transform the international aviation industry.”
“This project is a real example of successful state-backed collaboration, to find sustainable ways of enabling Qatar’s development which will have an impact across the world.”
Dr Malcolm Potts, Biofuels project director, said: “We are working with micro-organisms which can be grown anywhere, and which are particularly suitable to the environment of Qatar. We are trying to develop a biofuel industry in the country, using new technologies not found anywhere else in the world.”
“We are also delighted that more than one-third of the 20-strong international Biofuel team comprises Qatari graduates of QU who bring to bear a high level of skill to the project.” – TradeArabia News Service