Boeing, SAA Have High Hopes for Turning Tobacco into Biofuel


Solaris Sunchem

Tobacco is smoking hot once again—and may prove to be aviation’s fuel of the future.

Boeing and South African Airways are close to processing the first crop of tobacco produced specifically for biofuel production.

The feedstock is Solaris, a nicotine-free tobacco plant patented by Italian biotech firm Sunchem. Solaris is not genetically modified, can flourish where other crops fail, and its protein-rich byproducts can be used for animal protein. [more]

Commercial and community farms totaling 123 acres were planted and the oil from the plant’s seeds may be converted into bio-jet fuel as early as next year. If the test works, the project will be expanded in South Africa and to other countries with hopes of being able to also cultivate biofuel from the plant’s leaves and stems.

Amsterdam-based SkyNRG, a leader in sustainble jet fuel, is developing the test fuel with sites set on producing renewable jet fuel for the future. Sustainable aviation biofuel would reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by 50 to 75 percent, meeting the sustainability threshold set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials. 

“SAA continues to work towards becoming the most environmentally sustainable airline in the world and is committed to a better way of conducting business,” said Ian Cruickshank, environmental affairs specialist, SAA Group. 

“The impact that the biofuel program will have on South Africans is astounding: thousands of jobs mostly in rural areas, new skills and technology, energy security and stability, and macro-economic benefits to South Africa, and of course, a massive reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that is emitted into our atmosphere.” 

While the airline industry searches for greater economies, alternatives to sky-high fuel costs being trialed include garbage, algae and sugarcane. 

Boeing is out front in global efforts to develop sustainable aviation biofuel and is participating in development projects in the U.S., Middle East, Europe, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Brazil, and Australia.

“The challenge for Boeing, SAA and their partners will be scalability,” TriplePundit comments. “Assuming tobacco fuel takes off, can farmers really grow enough tobacco to help slowly wean the airline off fossil fuels?” 

[Image via Sunchem]