Aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, said that the initiative will strengthen its relations with South Africa’s national airline, SAA, as well as assist in reaching the country’s goals for its public health, economic and rural development sectors.
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"It's an honour 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 at 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."
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Maarten van Dijk, chief technology officer of the sustainable jet fuel developer, SkyNRG, said it will be expanding production of the hybrid plant known as Solaris, an energy crop that farmers will grow as an alternative to traditional tobacco.
"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 van Dijk.
The plant, which is nicotine free, is currently being tested on farms in South Africa. Initially, oil from the plant’s seeds with be converted into jet fuel however Boeing expects that emerging technologies will eventually increase South Africa’s aviation biofuel production from the rest of the plant.
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Ian Cruickshank, an environmental affairs specialist for SAA, added that the new plant will not encourage tobacco smoking.
"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," he added.
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SAA and Boeing are also working with the international group, Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) in order to provide farmers with small plots with an opportunity to grow biofuel feedstock without harming food supplies, fresh water or land use.