Project Solaris, named after the GMO-free tobacco plant, is a collaboration between the global aviation giant, SAA, SkyNRG and Sunchem SA in a joint effort to develop an aviation biofuel supply chain.
The first test crop is due to be harvested this month in Limpopo Province, where 50 hectares of Solaris plants have been planted. Once harvested, the oil from the seeds could become biofuel during the first quarter of 2015.
Ian Cruikshank, environmental affairs specialist from South African Airlines said, “SAA continues to work towards becoming the most environmentally sustainable airline in the world and is committed to a better way of conducting business”.
With a test flight planned as soon as practically possible, the airline have high hopes for the biofuel, whose future production is scaled at 400 million litres by 2023.
“The impact that the biofuel programme will have on South Africans is astounding: thousands of jobs, mostly in rural areas; new skills and technology; energy security and stability; and macro-economic benefits to South Africa; and, of course, a massive reduction in the amount of CO2 that is emitted into our atmosphere.”
In addition to these savings, the cost of operational productivity will be vastly improved for the SAA, who currently spend in the region of 40% on fuel.
Boeing International managing director for Africa, J Miguel Santos is clearly excited to see such early progress and said, “Boeing strongly believes that our aviation biofuel collaboration with South African Airways will benefit the environment and public health while providing new economic opportunities for South Africa’s small farmers. This project also positions our valued airline customer to gain a long-term, viable domestic fuel supply and improve South Africa’s national balance of payments”.
Aviation biofuel made from Solaris plants can massively impact carbon emissions, reducing them effectively by 50% to 75%. This ensures that the sustainable solution meets the threshold set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB).