Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tobacco May Be Good For Your Air Freight (if not Your Health)

Sustainable Biofuel May Keep Planes in the Air and Farmers in Business
Shipping News Feature

SOUTH AFRICA – WORLDWIDE – Who says tobacco is bad for us (apart from the vast majority if not all of healthcare professionals)? A different way of burning the substance may in fact be good for the environment if aircraft manufacturer Boeing, South African Airways (SAA) and SkyNRG are to be believed. The trio have announced that they are collaborating to make sustainable biofuel for use in both the passenger and freight aviation markets, from a new type of tobacco plant as Ian Cruickshank, South African Airways Group Environmental Affairs Specialist, explains:

"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."

SkyNRG, which has founding partners with some industry interest; airline KLM, oil company Argos Energies and strategy consulting firm Spring Associates, is expanding production of the hybrid plant, known as Solaris, as an energy crop that farmers could grow instead of traditional tobacco. 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 and in coming years, Boeing expects emerging technologies to increase South Africa's aviation biofuel production from the rest of the plant. Maarten van Dijk, Chief Technology Officer, SkyNRG, commented:

"We strongly believe in the potential of successfully rolling out Solaris in the Southern African region. Business cases like these 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.”

Solaris has been developed and patented by Italian bio research company Sunchem. By engineering the tobacco for energy applications, the plant maximises the production of flowers and seeds to the detriment of the leaves production, and biomass for biogas production, instead of use in the cigarettes industry. Sunchem aims to demonstrate Solaris’ sustainability by meeting the criteria of the Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) standard which has been identified by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other international NGOs as the strongest sustainability guarantee on the market.

In October 2013, Boeing and SAA said they would work together to develop a sustainable aviation biofuel supply chain in Southern Africa. 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 works with partners in the United States, Europe, China, Middle East, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Australia and other countries to develop sustainable aviation biofuel. When produced sustainably, aviation biofuel could reduce carbon emissions by 50 to 80% compared to petroleum jet fuel through its lifecycle. Airlines have conducted more than 1,500 passenger flights using biofuel since its use was approved in 2011. J. Miguel Santos, Managing Director for Africa, Boeing International, said:

"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. South Africa is leading efforts to commercialise a valuable new source of biofuel that can further reduce aviation's environmental footprint and advance the region's economy."