The first commercial planes in Africa to use biofuels carried 300 passengers between Johannesburg and Cape Town on 15 July. The Boeing jets, operated by South African Airways (SAA), were partly powered by nicotine-free, high-energy “Solaris” tobacco plants cultivated by farmers in Limpopo Province.
The flights represent a major step forward for Project Solaris, a partnership between biochemists Sunchem SA, fuel specialists SkyNRG, SAA and Boeing, which launched in 2014 with the aim of delivering “local, sustainable jet fuel production” at large scale.
“This is very significant as it proves we can use this biofuel,” says Ian Cruickshank, SAA’s group environmental affairs specialist. “It shows the industry is really changing. Four or five years ago biofuel was seen as futuristic, and today it’s here.”
SAA is aiming to have 50% of its fleet using biofuel by 2023, which could reach 500 million litres per year. SkyNRG chief technology officer, Maarten van Dijk, projects the crop will be offsetting 267 kilotons of CO2 emissions a year by 2020.