Boeing has launched a partnership with South African Airways and sustainable jet fuel pioneer SkyNRG to develop aviation biofuel from a new type of tobacco plant.
The fuel will be manufactured from a nicotine-free tobacco plant called Solaris, developed for energy purposes by Italian company Sunchem.
Local farmers, growing tobacco for the cigarette industry for their livelihood, will be offered the opportunity to switch to eco-friendly Solaris.
"By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking," said Ian Cruickshank, South African Airways (SAA) Group Environmental Affairs Specialist. "This is another way that SAA and Boeing are driving development of sustainable biofuel while enhancing our region's economic opportunity."
Small scale test projects are already underway in the region with production of biofuel from the plant’s seeds expected to start in the coming years. The companies involved in the project hope that with advancing technology, it would eventually be possible to produce jet fuel from the rest of the plant.
"South Africa is leading efforts to commercializs a valuable new source of biofuel that can further reduce aviation's environmental footprint and advance the region's economy," said J Miguel Santos, Boeing’s managing director for Africa.
When produced in a sustainable manner, aviation biofuel can reduce aviation’s carbon footprint by 50 to 80 per cent. Airlines have been using biofuel experimentally since 2011 when it was first approved.
"We strongly believe in the potential of successfully rolling out Solaris in the Southern African region to power sustainable fuels that are also affordable," said Maarten van Dijk, Chief Technology Officer, SkyNRG.
In October 2013, Boeing and SAA said they would work together to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel supply chain in Southern Africa.
As part of that effort, they are working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials to position farmers with small plots of land to grow biofuel feedstocks that provide socioeconomic value to communities without harming food supplies, fresh water or land use.
Boeing is the aviation industry's leader in the development of sustainable aviation biofuel, working with partners in the United States, Europe, China, Middle East, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Australia and other countries.