Boeing to Produce Sustainable Aviation Biofuel from Tobacco

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – The global airlines industry released 705 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2013. This represents 12 percent of all transportation emissions, demonstrating the scale of the environmental impact that the aviation sector is having. Boeing Co. has recognized the urgent need to develop alternative biofuels that will cut down the carbon emissions by 50 to 80 percent compared to conventional petroleum fuels, and make the sector more environmentally sustainable.

In a significant move toward achieving this goal, Boeing has entered into a partnership with South African Airways and SkyNRG to use hybrid tobacco to produce sustainable aviation biofuel. This pioneering project is aimed at supporting the environment and public health. The partners will use SkyNRG’s unique hybrid plant Solaris, which the farmers can grow as an energy crop in place of traditional tobacco farming.

Solaris is a valuable new source of sustainable jet fuel that could help promote the economic advancement of local farming communities in South Africa, in addition to serving the environmental goals of the aviation industry. The plant is effectively free of nicotine, and its test farming is already underway in South Africa. In the beginning, the oil extracted from the seeds of the plant will be converted into jet fuel. Boeing expects technological breakthroughs in the coming years to increase the production volume of this fuel from the rest of the plant.

Environmental experts in South Africa say that the knowledge and experience of tobacco growers in the country can be utilized to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking. SkyNRG believes that the sustainable fuels produced from Solaris will also be more affordable. Boeing and South African Airways are engaging with the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials to provide small farmers with the opportunity to grow biofuel feed-stocks that deliver socio-economic value to the local communities without compromising the supply of food, fresh water or agricultural land.

Boeing is leading the aviation industry in the development of sustainable biofuels. The company is working with several partners in the US, Europe, China, Brazil, Australia, Middle East and South Africa. The use of biofuels was approved in 2011, and since then airlines have already conducted more than 1,500 passenger flights using biofuel.

Source: WSJ

Image Credit: Flickr via Aero Icarus