Alternate title: "Boeing delivers most hyperbolic headline ever"
I just ran across this report from Boeing about using halophytes (plants that grow in/with salt water).
I have mixed feelings about this. Even with the loftiest projections of producing energy from deserts/salt water, what will be the downstream effects of having limitless cheap, 'green' energy? Burning these fuels still results on greenhouse gas emissions.
It won't be limitless. There is a limit to how much biofuel you can grow and process in a year; there hasn't been a limit to how much fossil fuels have been pulled out of the ground up until now. Admittedly, biofuels do put out greenhouse gas emissions, but it's the ones that are pulled out of the ground that are the big problem. Greenhouse gas emissions were in a natural state up until 1900 or so. What got burned, even whale oil, was going to decompose and have some of it end up in the atmosphere as CO2 anyway.
Even fossil fuel use is not out of the question, as long as you can offset that carbon by planting trees or burying biochar. But humanity hasn't done that. They have cut down more trees to make way for low carbon sequestering field crops. They have depleted soil carbon and replaced a carbon-based food web with nutrients that are derived from chemical processes that use fossil fuel.
If we could put saline water wastelands (look up Loving county, TX) to use growing salt-water algae to make biofuels, it would be a positive step.
Cheaper fuel will encourage higher usage, but I don't see this as a lower cost fuel.
Perhaps cheaper to produce, but to me that signals higher profits for the producer, not cheaper prices for the consumer.
If they could produce x many BTUs for a penny, do you think they would sell it for 2 pennies if they could get 100 pennies for it? Probably not.
Sounds like they will combine the tech with aquaculture/ponics of some sort.
I hope they are not planning on pumping sea water into the desert so they can grow salt tolerent plants.
It might be greening the desert, but would also salt the sand for any future agriculture, wouldn't it?
I wouldn't worry too much about this. While the 'economics' might be feasible, the life-cycle-analysis and energy-return-on-energy-invested (ERORI) is terrible.
How do I know? I did a feasibility study for something similar using algae for biodiesel using saline aquifer water. The project was only economically viable with government subsidies, the ERORI was very low 2:1 and the quantity produced... a drop in the bucket compared to what a commercial airline company would consume in a day.