Sunchem’s Solaris tobacco plant to be used in new project to supply biodiesel at Johannesburg OR Tambo

Sunchem’s Solaris tobacco plant to be used in new project to supply biodiesel at Johannesburg OR Tambo | Sunchem,South African Airways

Sunchem's nicotine-free tobacco plant Solaris

Tue 3 Dec 2019 – A new South African project has been launched that will use a locally produced feedstock to manufacture biodiesel for ground handling operations at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. If the project is successful, it will be scaled up in the coming years to produce biojet fuel as well as green diesel. The move follows an earlier pilot project to produce sustainable aviation fuel that was derived from Sunchem’s nicotine-free tobacco plant called Solaris that has a high yield of oil and biomass compared to conventional crops. The fuel was used to power a South African Airways flight in 2016 that had been refined by World Energy Fuels in the US, supplied by SkyNRG and supported by Boeing. In addition to Sunchem, partners in the new Project Reya Fofa – Setswana for ‘We are flying’ – include Swissport, the Royal Bafokeng Nation and iLive, and is endorsed by South African Airways.


The partners, who have signed a Memorandum of Understanding, said they are committed to achieving Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) certification for the project to ensure it delivers real social, environmental and climate benefits. It is also intended to demonstrate that locally-produced biofuel can support food security, job creation, biodiversity and showcase the potential of the South African bioeconomy to the world. Project integrator Sunchem, Africa’s first RSB certified company, added that its commitment to bringing its Solaris crop to Africa would help support the continent’s energy transition.


Ground handler Swissport said its goal was to promote environmental responsibility in its services and was working alongside South African Airways to support a more sustainable and localised fuel supply at O.R. Tambo International.


The Royal Bafokeng Nation (RBN) is the ethnic homeland of the Setswana-speaking Bafokeng people and is located in the North West Province of South Africa. Through its agent Moumo Integrated Development, it is seeking to diversify the land away from a current reliance on mining activities and to create productive agricultural initiatives with a focus on job creation and economic upliftment.


Following an anticipated pilot phase with Moumo, underutilised RBN land will be made available to grow Solaris for the project. The local community will not only be involved in the agricultural phase but will also participate in the processing steps of the value chain. The goal is to replicate the project in other regions of the RBN and the rest of the country.


Fuel production partner iLive will transform the Solaris oil into a biodiesel meeting the SANS1935 (ASTM D6751) standard, which will then be blended to the correct requirements for Swissport’s use. The target is for the biodiesel to be used in 20% of all ground handling fuel supplies at O.R. Tambo International by 2023.


The partners expect to increase the feedstock supply over time to meet the requirements of a biojet production facility.


“We are very proud to have achieved this next milestone in commercialising the Solaris crop in South Africa and contributing to the development of localised sustainable fuel production,” said Sunchem CEO Sergio Tommasini.








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