Boeing, SAA and SkyNRG to collaborate on project to convert new tobacco hybrid crop to sustainable jet fuel
Solaris trials in Marble Hall, South Africa (photo: Sunchem)
Fri 8 Aug 2014 – An initiative by Boeing and South African Airways (SAA) to develop a renewable jet fuel sector in South Africa has announced it is to collaborate with SkyNRG on a project to produce jet biofuel from a new hybrid type of energy-rich, nicotine-free tobacco crop. The crop, known as Solaris, has been developed by Italian company Sunchem and test farming is already underway. SkyNRG has teamed with Sunchem to scale up production and both Boeing and SAA will provide active support in securing further project financing and offtake agreements. The partners believe biofuel production from large and small farms can be expected within the next few years, with oil from the plant’s seeds being converted initially into jet fuel and then emerging technologies enabling future production from the rest of the plant. Boeing and SAA are working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) to help farmers with small plots of land to grow biofuel feedstocks that provide socio-economic value without harming food supplies, fresh water or land use.
Southern Africa has long been associated with the growing of tobacco and is an important income source for many farmers in the region, despite declining global production.
“By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking,” said Ian Cruickshank, SAA Group Environmental Affairs Specialist. “This is another way that SAA and Boeing are driving development of sustainable biofuel while enhancing our region’s economic opportunity.”
SkyNRG claims the Solaris feedstock can help to significantly reduce cost price levels towards fossil parity and has the potential to reduce 80% of CO2 emissions compared to fossil kerosene. As well as producing vegetable oil, the plant can also be used to generate valuable animal proteins and biomass for rural electrification purposes, says the Amsterdam-based world market provider of sustainable jet fuel.
“Business cases like this tick all the right boxes for SkyNRG and are exactly what we are looking for, as they give the opportunity to deliver affordable and sustainable fuels,” said Maarten van Dijk, the company’s Chief Technology Officer.
Sunchem South Africa Managing Director Joost van Lier said his company had been working on the Solaris project for two years at Marble Hall in the Limpopo province of South Africa and had proved successful in small-scale trials. Sunchem reports one hectare of Solaris can generate an average of three tons of seed per harvest, with three or more harvests per year obtainable subject to suitable conditions. The seed contains 40% oil and through cold pressing up to 34% oil and 62% protein cake can be produced. Solaris is very robust, it can be cultivated in a variety of climates and soils, and on marginal lands unsuitable for food production, adds the company.
SkyNRG and Sunchem will work with RSB to demonstrate Solaris meets the certification body’s sustainability standards, which, points out SkyNRG, has been identified by the World Wildlife Fund and other international NGOs as having the strongest sustainability criteria.
“We are very pleased with this important initiative by a key RSB member that offers the potential to deliver both sustainable biojet fuel and socio-economic development,” said RSB Executive Secretary Rolf Hogan.