Could a solution to reducing aviation emissions be found in the Arabian Desert?

Could the desert outside Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates be cultivated to produce jet fuel?

Story highlights

  • ISEAS project seeks to grow jet biofuel in desert
  • The concept is being tested in Abu Dhabi, UAE
  • The project uses only sun and seawater

John Mathews is Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, Australia.The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. CNN is showcasing the work of The Conversation, a collaboration between journalists and academics to provide news analysis and commentary. The content is produced solely by The Conversation.

(CNN)The aviation industry is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2011, aviation contributed around 3% of Australia's emissions. Despite improvements in efficiency, global aviation emissions are expected to grow 70% by 2020 from 2005. While the industry is seeking new renewable fuel sources, growing biofuels takes up valuable land and water that could be otherwise used to grow food.

But what if you could grow biofuels on land nobody wants, using just seawater and sunlight, and produce food at the same time?
    That's just what a new project in Abu Dhabi is seeking to do. The Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System, or ISEAS, will grow sustainable food and aviation fuel in the desert, using seawater and sunshine, in a way that is eminently transferable to similar arid regions around the world.
    The project was announced in January 2015 and is now under construction.
    So, how does the project solve the biggest environmental problems?

    A triple dilemma

    Energy, water and food problems frequently compound each other, each making the others more difficult to resolve.
    Examples abound. Think of wasteful irrigation coming up against water limits and threatening reductions in food production. But there are some projects that turn the issue around and bring water, energy and food issues into positive relations, each strengthening the others.