Halophytes: Growing food and biofuel in coastal desert regions

Originally published at johnbrianshannon.com
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

What could be better than creating rich cropland out of the world’s desert regions?

It’s a tempting idea. Some 33% of the world’s landmass is covered with desert landscape and 40,000 miles of coastlines are adjoining deserts. Nothing but ocean, sun, and sand. But in those hostile regions, some prototype halophyte farming projects have scored significant successes.

NASA - Earth with Global Deserts
Looking for a place to grow Halophytes? Coastal desert regions are your best bet. NASA – Earth with Global Deserts

Halophytes for human food, for livestock feed, and for biofuel production

Whether halophyte crops are grown for food (the ‘tenders’ or ‘leaves’ of the plant have a light nutty and salty taste) or to feed livestock (the stalks) or for biofuel production, growing these crops along coastal regions restores plant life to desert areas adjoining the ocean.

Exclusive report – Boeing reveals “the biggest breakthrough in biofuels ever” (Energy Post EU)

A land plan that grows halopyhtes food for humans/livestock feed and for biofuel production will produce the best economic result

“Integrating those two systems you get sustainable aquaculture that does not pollute the oceans and biomass that can be used for fuels” — Darrin L. Morgan

As a bonus in poverty-stricken lands, dried halophytes (branches/roots) can serve as an infinitely cleaner cookstove fuel than what is presently used in such areas — which is often dried livestock dung or expensive kerosene.

Halophytes are those crops which are salt-tolerant and can survive the blistering heat of the world’s deserts. Many of the crops we presently grow have salt-resistant cousins — all they need is trenches or pipelines to deliver the water inland from the sea.

Halophytes negate the need to remove the high salt content of ocean water which in itself, is a very costly proposition with desalination plants costing millions of dollars.

‘Plants called halophytes show even more promise than we expected.’ Image courtesy of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) affiliated with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi.
‘Plants called halophytes show even more promise than we expected.’ Image courtesy of the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) affiliated with the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi.

As halophyte farms become established they improve the growing conditions for non-halophyte plants

Most deserts are sand, which means all that is required to begin creating usable farmland is startup funding, farm machinery, a field plan and seeds, and of course, plenty of farm labourers.

Creating Wealth out of Sand and Seawater

Some of the poorest places on the planet are also ‘rich’ in deserts and are located near plentiful salt water resources, making them suitable candidates for halophyte farming. Economic benefits for poor countries are stable growth, lower unemployment, better balance-of-trade and less reliance on foreign food aid programmes.

If you can grow your own food at low cost, why buy it from other countries?

Halophytes Greening Eritrea Part I (Martin Sheen narrates the early days of Eritrea’s very successful halophyte farming and inland seafood production)

Halophytes Greening Eritrea Part II

Seawater irrigation agriculture projects for deserts (completely rainless regions)

2012 Yuma, Arizona Salicornia planting

Sahara Forest Project: From vision to reality

University of Phoenix Seawater Farming Overview

Growing Potatoes using Saltwater Farming Techniques in the Netherlands

Other successful examples exist in other coastal regions around the world

Helping to mitigate global sea level rises due to climate change, creating powerful economic zones out of desert, seawater and labour, lowering unemployment in poverty-stricken nations, removing carbon from the atmosphere and returning it to the soil, all while dramatically increasing crop and seafood production are all benefits of growing halophytes in coastal desert regions of the world.

Stage I Coastal Desert transformation

The first 25,000 miles of coastal desert out of a grand total of 40,000 miles of coastal desert globally can be converted to this kind of farming simply by showing up and using existing simple technologies/cultivation methods and seed varieties.

Stage II Coastal Desert transformation

The other 15,000 miles of coastal desert regions could be viewed as Stage II of this process after the best candidate areas become fully cultivated, as these secondary regions may require more capital investment for conversion due to their somewhat more inland locations.

Huge opportunity awaits early investors in this rediscovered agricultural market. Cheap land, free ocean water, low cost seeds and local labour, and a reputation as businesspeople who can solve local problems add value and employment to poverty-stricken regions, and lead growing nations forward, look promising for seawater/halophyte farming owner/operators and investors.

Further Reading

Etihad Airways says 100% Biofuel Flights Within Five Years

by Nathan

The United-Arab-Emirates-based aviation heavyweight Etihad Airways will soon be offering regular 100%-biofuel-powered commercial flights throughout the region, according to recent comments made by Chief Operations Officer Richard Hill.

Biofuel flights using 100% biofuel are less than 5 years away, says Etihad Airways.
Biofuel flights using 100% biofuel are less than 5 years away, says Etihad Airways. Image Credit: Airplane taking off via Shutterstock

This strong push towards greater biofuel-use by the airline is being supported by the creation of the new BIOjet Abu Dhabi project — a partnership with the French energy firm Total, and the world-renowned aircraft-producer Boeing, with the aim of developing aviation biofuels in the United Arab Emirates.

The new project was announced at a recent press conference celebrating the success of a recent UAE-produced-bio-kerosene-powered flight (partly powered with biofuels, not fully) — the first such flight.

The 45-minute flight was the latest step towards operating commercial flights using biofuels. — Chief operations officer at Etihad, Richard Hill

He also stated that he expected the first of such commercial flights to be offered within the next five years.

Working with Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy company Masdar, the group intends to develop a supply chain that will bring aviation biofuel production and refining capabilities to the oil-rich nation.

Masdar is currently developing salt-tolerant plants that could provide the raw material for the renewable fuel. It is hoped that species such as salicornia could be grown in coastal areas, allowing for large scale production of energy crops that could be grown without impacting scarce water supplies in the region.

However, agricultural waste and date palm leaves are also being considered as potential feed stocks for the project. Creating fuel from sustainable sources would help Etihad curb its carbon emissions, the company said.

In collaboration with our key partners, our goal is to support and help drive the commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuel in Abu Dhabi, the region and also globally.

We have made some important first steps in this process and our continued focus will be to develop further initiatives such as this which will facilitate the availability of sustainable aviation biofuels for Etihad Airways in the coming years. — James Hogan, president and chief executive of Etihad

For more backstory on this breakthrough, check out: Boeing Biofuel Breakthrough — This Is A BIG Deal (Interview With Boeing’s Biofuel Director).

This article, Biofuel Flights Within Five Years, Says Head Of Etihad Airways, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Nathan — For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 3:19

Biofuels 101 – with some easy to understand links

Biofuels 101 – with some easy to understand links | 27/01/2014
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Plant-based fuels (biofuels) are an excellent feedstock for the conventional petroleum industry as they can fill voids in the supply chain and as a bonus, biofuels feature dramatically lower carbon content/CO2 emissions.

Biofuel research. Image courtesy of EnergyBoom
Biofuel research. Image courtesy of EnergyBoom

When biofuel is blended 50/50 with conventional petroleum fuels, significantly lower CO2 emissions result as aircraft maker Boeing has proven in its trials of 50/50 blended biofuels in Boeing aircraft.

Boeing reports CO2 emissions dropped between 65%-80% when using blended fuel in their SBRPT programme.

Biofuel negatives

It must be recognized that there are some downsides to biofuels and number one on that list is the type of crop that is being used to produce biofuel.

Growing corn for biofuel on prime land, displaces land that could be used to grow food crops which could be a problem in the world’s breadbasket (the U.S.A.) where millions of hectares of food crops are grown.

“…producing ethanol from sugarcane is six times less expensive than producing ethanol from corn. Growing sugarcane requires fewer chemicals, including pesticides and fertilizers.” — How Stuff Works

Some crops are natural biofuel superstars, while some require millions or billions of dollars of subsidies in order to compete in the market.

Corn is a 1st-generation biofuel crop — and of all the biofuel crops it uses the most water and fertilizer by a significant margin, and it also requires the most land management.

For 2nd-generation biofuel crops such as camelina, castor, jatropha and millettia, these bountiful crops produce excellent returns with minimal infrastructure, pesticides and fertilizer.

Not only do these plants use much less water and fertilizer than corn, they can tolerate semi-arid conditions and they grow readily in sub-prime soils. Now is the time to begin switching to 2nd-generation biofuel crops.

And right behind that are 3rd-generation biofuel from algae, or from enzymes and biomass.

Some countries have decided that biofuels belong in their future and have set thousands or even millions of hectares aside for biofuel crop agriculture.

Indonesia, India, China and other countries are growing 2nd-generation biofuel crops and reaping much better returns than heavily-subsidized U.S. corn ethanol.

Such 2nd-generation biofuels provide work for thousands of farm labourers, much-needed income for farmers in developing nations, and adds to GDP and lowers demand on proved oil reserves. And a low level of technology is required to grow, harvest and process biofuels.

“Biodiesel growth from non-food feedstocks is gaining traction around the world.

For example, China recently set aside an area the size of England to produce jatropha and other non-food plants for biodiesel.

India has up to 60 million hectares of non-arable land available to produce jatropha, and intends to replace 20 percent of diesel fuels with jatropha-based biodiesel.

In Brazil and Africa, there are significant programs underway dedicated to producing non-food crops jatropha and castor for biodiesel.” — Biodiesel 2020 – 2nd Edition by Will Thurmond

No one is saying that biofuels are the entire solution to our liquid energy needs, but 2nd generation and 3rd-generation biofuels can be an important part of the solution while lowering overall CO2 emissions.

Related Information: