|Solaris energy tobacco is optimized for seed production for energy applications, not leaf production. Click to enlarge.|
Boeing, South African Airways (SAA) and SkyNRG are collaborating to make sustainable aviation biofuel from Solaris, a new hybrid tobacco plant optimized for seed production for energy applications. This initiative broadens 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.
Solaris is a new, non-GMO, high-seed tobacco variety protected by patents, the rights to which are held by Sunchem Holdings in Italy, which is partnering with US-based Tyton BioEnergy Systems on its testing and deployment. Solaris maximizes the production of flowers and seeds to the detriment of the leaves production, and biomass for biogas production. The plant is extremely robust, and is able to grow in various climates and soils. One hectare of Solaris can deliver an average seed yield of 4 to 10 tonnes with multiple harvests per year (depending on climate conditions). The seed contains around 40% oil.
SkyNRG is expanding production of the Solaris plant. 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. 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.
In October 2013, Boeing and SAA said they would work together to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel supply chain in Southern Africa. (Earlier post.) 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 on sustainable fuel with partners in the United States, Europe, China, Middle East, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Australia and other countries. When produced sustainably, aviation biofuel reduces carbon emissions by 50 - 80% compared to petroleum jet fuel through its lifecycle. Airlines have conducted more than 1,500 passenger flights using biofuel since the fuel was approved in 2011.