Boeing, South African Airways to make jet fuel from tobacco

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U.S. planemaker Boeing has teamed up with South African Airways to develop jet fuel from a tobacco plant as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions and promote green energy in Africa’s most advanced economy.

The jet fuel will be made from a hybrid tobacco plant known as Solaris, which will be produced by alternative jet fuel maker SkyNRG, both companies said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Test farming of the plants, which are nicotine-free, is ongoing in South Africa, with biofuel output expected in the “next few years”, the companies said.

Initially, oil from the plant’s seeds will be converted into jet fuel. In coming years, Boeing expects emerging technologies to increase South Africa’s aviation biofuel production from the rest of the plant.
“By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking,” Ian Cruickshank, SAA’s Group Environmental Affairs Specialist, said.
“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 working with partners in the United States, Europe, China, Middle East, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Australia and other countries on aviation bioful. When produced sustainably, aviation biofuel reduces carbon emissions by 50 to 80 percent compared to petroleum jet fuel through its lifecycle, Boeing said. Airlines have conducted more than 1,500 passenger flights using biofuel since the fuel was approved in 2011.

This tobacco plant based biofuel has potential in several regions where traditional tobacco is cultivated, including Africa, southern and central Europe, Asia, Oceania and Latin America, Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Kowal said.

South Africa has set the beginning of October next year as the date when fuel producers will start blending diesel and petrol with biofuel to cut its reliance on imported fuel.



The biofuels industry in South Africa, the continent’s biggest agricultural producer, has been held back by an inadequate regulatory regime and concerns that biofuels would hurt food security and impact food prices.