Date
23 November 2017
South African Airways is teaming up with Boeing to work on a biofuel derived from a new breed of tobacco plant to power the carrier's fleet of aircraft. Photo: Boeing
South African Airways is teaming up with Boeing to work on a biofuel derived from a new breed of tobacco plant to power the carrier's fleet of aircraft. Photo: Boeing

Coming soon: jet fuel from tobacco

Tobacco is a big no-no when flying. But one of these days, it may be used on the plane — as jet fuel.

South African Airways is teaming up with Boeing to work on a biofuel derived from a new breed of tobacco plant to power the carrier’s fleet of aircraft, technology news platform Wired reports.

Several airlines are already using various forms of biofuel in test flights in a bid to reduce their fuel costs, which account for a third of their operating expenses. Aside from the savings, biofuels can cut the airline industry’s overall carbon footprint by 80 percent, according to the International Air Transport Association.

South Africa aims to reduce its carbon emissions by 34 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2025. In line with the country’s target, South African Airways wants to use homegrown biofuel by 2017.

Boeing and South African Airways have settled on tobacco as a source of biofuel because tobacco is grown in South Africa, and the carrier can be assured of a steady supply. The choice will also provide the local tobacco industry with an alternative market as the country steps up its campaign against smoking.

SkyNRG, a sustainable fuel company, is producing a tobacco strain called Solaris. The breed is ideal for making biofuel because it contains a lot of seeds which contain the oil that is used to make the fuel. It also grows less leaves than the ordinary tobacco plant, and it contains virtually no nicotine.

Turning to biofuel does not mean that South African Airways will stop using conventional jet fuel. Fossil fuel will still be the main source, but mixed with tobacco-based fuel.

“That’s the only feasible approach,” Boeing spokesperson Jessica Kowal tells Wired, as the airline gradually shifts to biofuel.

In fact, the airline’s move to use biofuel will raise its fuel expenses because fuel from plants is more expensive. It’s only when the airline industry ramps up the use of biofuels and boosts production that the costs will gradually come down.

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A tobacco strain called Solaris is ideal for making biofuel because it contains a lot of seeds which contain the oil that is used to make the fuel. Photo: Boeing


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