Boeing teams up with South African Airways to make jet fuel from tobacco plant

Aircraft giant Boeing, South African Airways and jet fuel provider SkyNRG have announced they are collaborating to make sustainable aviation biofuel from a new type of tobacco plant.


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This initiative broadens the cooperation between Boeing and SAA to develop renewable jet fuel in ways that support South Africa’s goals for public health as well as economic and rural development, according to Boeing.

SkyNRG is expanding production of the hybrid plant known as Solaris as an energy crop that farmers could grow instead of traditional tobacco.

Test farming of the plants, which are effectively nicotine-free, is underway in South Africa with biofuel production expected from large and small farms in the next few years, according to Boeing. 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.

Boeing International managing director for Africa J. Miguel Santos said: “South Africa is leading efforts to commercialise a valuable new source of biofuel that can further reduce aviation’s environmental footprint and advance the region’s economy.”

South African Airways Group environmental affairs specialist Ian Cruickshank added: “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.”

SKyNRG chief technology officer Maarten van Dijk also said he believed in the potential to successfully roll out the new energy-rich plant across the South African region to “power sustainable fuels that are also affordable”.

SAA are not the only airline planning on using green fuels for their planes. Earlier this year, British Airways announced that it will start producing jet fuel made from waste destined for landfill in order to reduce its carbon emissions.

The British airline is partnering with US bioenergy firm Solena Fuels to create the world’s first facility in Essex to produce sustainable aviation fuel.

According to BA, the sustainable jet fuel “produced each year will be enough to power our flights from London City Airport twice over with carbon savings the equivalent of taking 150,000 cars off the road”.

Liz Gyekye

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