As part of the aviation industry’s efforts to use biofuels to drive down its carbon footprint, Boeing has announced a collaboration with South African Airways and SkyNRG to produce aviation fuel from a new, virtually nicotine-free tobacco plant.
Test farms are already up and running, with Boeing hoping to use local tobacco growing lands and expertise to produce sustainable biofuel without impacting food-bearing crops or encouraging smoking.
The modified hybrid tobacco plant, known as Solaris, produces oil-rich seeds – and these seeds will be used to produce aviation biofuel in the first stage of the program. Boeing is hoping that “emerging technologies” will allow fuel to be extracted from the remainder of the plant in the coming years.
According to the Tobacco Industry of Southern Africa, tobacco is already a popular alternative crop with many industrial farming operations in the poorer soil areas north of Johannesburg. In 2013, there were 187 tobacco farming operations in the area employing somewhere between 8-10,000 workers and producing some 15 million kilograms of tobacco, mainly for cigarettes.