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Active Flagship Research Projects


Biorefinery: Integrated Sustainable Processes for Biomass Conversion to Biomaterials, Biofuels, and Fertilizer

MIT Professors: George Stephanopoulos, Kristala Prather, Yuriy Roman, and Bradley Olsen

Masdar Institute Professors: Jens Ejbye Schmidt, Mette Hedegaard Thomsen, and Lina F. Yousef


This research will conceptually generate and assess novel processes to convert renewable biomass into biofuels, bio-derived materials and fertilizer, using the biorefinery concept. Feedstock will include indigenous resources in Abu Dhabi, such as the organic fraction of municipal solid wastes in addition to other agricultural wastes and purpose-grown micro- and macro-algae. The research will be carried out by groups from the Masdar Institute (MI) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), working together in an interdisciplinary team. The overarching goal is to explore the use of biomass and biomass-derived intermediates for production of biofuels and polymerization feedstocks for the manufacture of novel biorenewable materials. Two industrial partners are associated with the project: Borouge, within the biomaterial industry in Abu Dhabi, and Novozymes within the enzyme technology industry. Other companies have expressed interest in the project. Outcomes are expected to include chemical and biochemical pathways, processes and catalysts for the production of advanced bio-based materials and biofuels, as well as a sustainability assessment of the proposed biorefineries for optimal use of the residuals. A high potential exists for significant intellectual property based on the project outcomes. These results will serve as the driving force for the implementation of new ‘green’ industries in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and the UAE based on sustainable feedstocks, and will help the Emirate of Abu Dhabi attain its goal of regional leadership in the development of next generation technologies based on renewable resources.


Concerns regarding global climate change and the desire to develop sustainable technologies are leading to the development of biorefineries that utilize renewable and sustainable feedstocks in place of conventional fossil feedstocks. In Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has set a strategic goal to become one of the world’s leaders in research, development, and implementation of advanced technologies based on renewable resources. To achieve this goal, Abu Dhabi is leveraging its experience in global markets into the technologies of the future. As evidence of this commitment, Abu Dhabi has launched the Masdar Initiative to provide a platform for research and development to solve some of mankind's most pressing issues: sustainable materials and energy resources, climate change, and capacity building for the development of human capital.

A cornerstone of the strategy is development of new sources of advanced materials and bioenergy based on renewable resources. While natural sources of biomass are scarce in the UAE, Abu Dhabi’s abundant sunshine and climate makes it a nearly ideal location for growing algae. Compared to other types of biomass, algae present certain advantages that fit well with the unique geographic and climatic conditions in Abu Dhabi and enhance the opportunity for the Emirate to become a leading developer of clean, sustainable technologies. Municipal and agricultural waste provides an alternative source of biomass that is regionally available. Disposal of these wastes is currently a very significant problem in Abu Dhabi and the UAE that promises only to grow with time. Abu Dhabi is currently among the world’s highest per-capita producers of municipal solid waste, generating in excess of 5 kg/person/day; approximately 75% of this mass represents organic matter. Utilization of the organic fraction from the municipal and agricultural wastes as a feedstock for manufacture of advanced polymeric materials and biofuels can provide a partial solution to the waste management problem and put Abu Dhabi in a position of leadership in the development of technologies based on renewable and sustainable resources.

In addition, the project will enhance energy security in Abu Dhabi to meet future demand and contribute to ensure that Abu Dhabi has a strong and diverse energy supply by diversifying energy sources in the country. The flagship project will also help change Abu Dhabi from a fossil fuels-based society to a modern biomass based society, which is environmentally sustainable. Due to the connection to Masdar and MIT, the project will also educate highly skilled master and Ph.D. candidates.