South African Airways biofuel project takes off with first flights activating ‘Project Solaris.’ Sunchem, an industrial research company in SA and SkyNRG sustainable fuels specialists, have teamed up to scale the energy rich tobacco crop “Solaris” in South Africa, supported by South African Airways and Boeing, world’s largest manufacturer of airplane’s and accessories.
Solaris is a nicotine and GMO free crop variety that yields significant amounts of sustainable oil (as feedstock for bio jet fuel) and high quality animal feed grown in the Limpopo province.
As of September 2015 the cultivation of Solaris has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) ensuring compliance with rigorous environmental and social standards.
Some of the benefits of solaris include reducing SAA’s carbon emissions, giving the airline greater control over the supply and pricing of its jet fuel, as the supply chain would be rand-based and not dollar-based and improving fuel efficiency thereby lowering emissions. The project would later create thousands of local jobs in agriculture and downstream industries.
But the ultimate objective is to expand growing through southern Africa and build up to sufficient volumes to justify building a refinery. Until then, the oil extracted from solaris seeds is being exported to AltAir Fuels in the US, where it is refined and sent back to South Africa as blended biojet fuel.
SAA acting chief executive Musa Zwane said the target was for half of the airline’s aircraft to use biojet fuel by 2023. According to SAA’s environmental specialist, Ian Cruickshank, 97% of the airline’s carbon emissions resulted from flying and only 3% from operations, so it had no alternative but to invest in more environmentally friendly fuel.
Project Solaris is targeting 20-million litres of biojet fuel by the end of next year and 500-million litres by 2023, which is half the annual fuel requirement of SAA’s Johannesburg hub.
The aircraft industry is focusing on reducing noise, improving fuel efficiency and lowering emissions, states Miguel Santos, Boeing International managing director for Africa.