Boeing, South African Airways (SAA) and SkyNRG are partnering together to develop aviation biofuel from a specific type of tobacco plant. SkyNRG is currently expanding its production of Solaris, an energy crop hybrid derived from the tobacco plant. Pilot farming of the plant, which is effectively nicotine-free, is underway in South Africa with to end goal of producing advanced biojet fuel from the seeds. As the program expands, Boeing expects emerging technologies to increase South Africa’s aviation biofuel production from the rest of the plant.
The project is an effort to expand the support of South Africa’s goals for improved public health along with economic and rural development.
“It’s an honor for Boeing to work with South African Airways on a pioneering project to make sustainable jet fuel from an energy-rich tobacco plant,” said J. Miguel Santos, managing director for Africa, Boeing International. “South Africa is leading efforts to commercialize a valuable new source of biofuel that can further reduce aviation’s environmental footprint and advance the region’s economy.”
In October 2013, Boeing and SAA agreed 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.
Ian Cruickshank, South African Airways Group Environmental Affairs Specialist said of the expanded project, “By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking. This is another way that SAA and Boeing are driving development of sustainable biofuel while enhancing our region’s economic opportunity.”
“We strongly believe in the potential of successfully rolling out Solaris in the Southern African region to power sustainable fuels that are also affordable,” added Maarten van Dijk, Chief Technology Officer, SkyNRG.