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Africa's greenest flight ever just took off from Johannesburg
Posted on 15/07/2016

EnvironmentSouth Africa

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As their partnership reaches its zenith, Boeing and South African Airways just launched the first plane to run on 50% biofuel made from a tobacco plant.

After several years of collaboration, Boeing and South African Airways have just watched Africa's greenest flight take off from Johannesburg. The plane was 50% fuelled by jet fuel sourced from a seed tobacco plant.

Greenest flight ever

Greenest flight ever
© Aero Icarus / CC-BY-SA-2.0

The two companies teamed up back in 2014 to develop tobacco biofuel in a bid to cut carbon emissions and promote green energy in South Africa. It comes from a hybrid tobacco plant known as Solaris, an energy-rich and GM-free crop which they hope will allow the country to lead the way in sustainable aviation.

Trial cultivation of the seeds began in 2013 on just 11 hectares of land in South Africa. The plant proved to be capable of being harvested up to three times a year and yielded significant quantities of oil, leading to a further 50 hectares being seeded in 2014.

Though the project was quickly successful in ecological terms, it has been a hot topic in what is South Africa's main food-growing region. Joost van Lier, Managing Director of Sunchem, the company behind the plant, said they had long been vying with the food vs fuel debate.

But he supported the project, saying, "Having to undergo a systematic process of evaluating the social and environmental ramifications of this development as prescribed by the RSB has allowed us to feel confident in promoting Solaris, not only as a financially viable crop for farmers in the region, but also one that will not affect food security or lead to environmental degradation."

Sunchem has plans to expand its cultivation to other countries including nearby Malawi, where tobacco is already one of the most widely grown crops. It believes the crop may also have potential in southern Brazil and eastern Europe.


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