Project Solaris gets Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials certification


Project Solaris has earned Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) certification for the production of the energy rich Solaris tobacco crop in the Limpopo region of South Africa. Solaris is a nicotine-free and GMO-free crop variety that yields significant amounts of sustainable oil that can be used as feedstock for bio jet fuel.

Project Solaris has involved the RSB from the start to ensure the incorporation of the RSB Standards into the development and up-scaling protocols and to get the operations certified, SAA said in a statement.
“Project Solaris has demonstrated that it can deliver sustainability on the ground in line with the RSBs global standard,” said RSB’s Executive Director, Rolf Hogan. “This is the result of a serious commitment to working with local stakeholders, rural development and reducing greenhouse gases while safeguarding the Limpopo’s unique natural environment.”
“The RSB certificate is a key factor for our company and development process,” said Sergio Tommasini, CEO of Sunchem Holding. “With RSB we proved our Solaris technology under different aspects respecting sustainability criteria. Thanks to all partner efforts, we earned this important certificate. RSB believed in our technology and gave us the right advice to improve it during our scale up programme.”

Sunchem holds the exclusive rights for an international industrial patent named “Solaris Seed Tobacco”. Solaris plant can be used for the production of seed (oil and animal cake) and biomass (dry and wet). The oil can be used for biodiesel, electric generation, bio jet fuel and marine diesel. Biomass might have different market applications: biogas and Biomethane, electric generation, paper pulp industry, animal cake (because of nicotine free).
“Developing a biofuel crop in South Africa’s ‘breadbasket’ province has of course drawn us into the centre of the food vs fuel debate,” said Joost van Lier, Managing Director of Sunchem South Africa. “Having to undergo a systematic process of evaluating the social and environmental ramifications of this development as prescribed by the RSB has allowed us to feel confident in promoting Solaris, not only as a financially viable crop for farmers in the region, but also one that will not affect food security or lead to environmental degradation.”
“SkyNRG, as one of the main founders of Project Solaris, believes that the RSB standard should play a central role in the aviation sectors’ efforts to develop truly sustainable jet fuel supply, meeting environmental and social safeguards. By receiving RSB certification, Project Solaris is achieving an important milestone for itself and for the aviation industry as a whole,” says Maarten van Dijk, CEO of SkyNRG.

SkyNRG is a major sustainable jet fuel supplier, having supplied more than 20 airlines worldwide. The company sources, blends and distributes sustainable jet fuel,

Boeing is a premium sponsor and promoter of the Solaris technology worldwide. J. Miguel Santos, Managing Director for Africa, Boeing International said, “We applaud South African Airways and the South African Government for ensuring the sustainability of their emerging aviation biofuel supply chain as it is being developed. This milestone marks a very significant step forward in ensuring positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes for aviation and the planet.”

South African Airways (SAA) is a supporter of Project Solaris and the end user of the fuel. Ian Cruickshank, SAA’s Group Environmental Specialist, said “SAA is a proud member of the RSB and subscribes to the environmental and social sustainability principles enshrined in the RSB standard”.

This certification ensures that future fuels contribute to reductions in CO? and are environmentally sustainable and contribute social and economic benefits to our rural economy where it is needed most.”

Project Solaris was launched in Limpopo in December last year. The launch crop in Limpopo comprises fifty hectares of Solaris. Seeds can be harvested three times a year. Seed oils are then processed into jet fuel, with each hectare producing around three tons of oil and over six tons of oil and protein rick cake, which can be used as animal feed.

Sustainable aviation biofuel made from Solaris plants can reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by 50 to 75%, ensuring it meets the sustainability threshold set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials. Airlines have conducted more than 1,600 passenger flights using aviation biofuel since the fuel was approved for commercial use in 2011.

In aircraft, Solaris and other biofuels are blended in a maximum 50:50 ratio with conventional jet fuel, resulting in no changes to engines, infrastructure etc., although biofuels often perform better than conventional fossil fuels.

By 2020 Project Solaris hopes to have at least 50 000 hectares of Solaris under cultivation in South Africa. This would also create 50 000 direct and indirect jobs (350 at present). Increasing the area under cultivation would also lower the price of Solaris biofuel, which is presently more than twice as expensive as fossil jet fuel. However, as SAA is committed to using several hundred million litres of biofuel a year by 2023, demand is sufficient to drive the process and bring costs down. It will take three to four years to create a complete biofuel supply chain in South Africa, while a refinery will cost several billion rand.