South African Airways operates flight with nicotine-free tobacco-based biofuel

Boeing, South African Airways (SAA) and low-cost carrier Mango have operated Africa’s first sustainable-fuelled flights powered with tobacco-based biofuels.

The SAA and Mango flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town, operated by a Boeing 737-800, used sustainable biojet fuel produced from Sunchem’s nicotine-free tobacco plant Solaris, refined by AltAir Fuels and supplied by SkyNRG.

Project Solaris, launched in 2014, is an effort from SkyNRG, Sunchem SA, South African Airways and Boeing to develop sustainable biojet fuel from the Solaris crop. In 2015, Project Solaris earned the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) certification, one of the strongest sustainability standards for biomaterials in the world. The RSB certification provides a model to further expand the production of the Solaris crop in a sustainable way.

"It is fitting that on our 100 year anniversary we are flying on fuels ‎that not only power the flight, but ensure a sustainable future for our industry," said Miguel Santos, managing director for Africa, Boeing International. "This project is a great example of environmental stewardship that delivers economic and health benefits to South Africa."

“Over the last two years Sunchem SA successfully worked side by side with local farmers in Marble Hall, Limpopo to grow the Solaris crop and make today's biofuel flight a success. We are very proud about this achievement as it shows that the patented Sunchem Solaris technology opens a new market for Southern Africa and beyond,” said Hayo de Feijter, CEO Sunchem SA. 

Maarten van Dijk, CEO SkyNRG, said: “We are proud to supply South African Airways together with our partner AltAir Fuels, the first and only refinery worldwide that produces sustainable biojet fuel on commercial scale. This flight represents an important next step for Project Solaris and we thank the Dutch government for their ongoing support that has been key in achieving today’s success.”

“It is a great honour to be part of this unique flight and South African Airways’ commitment to a better and cleaner way of flying. We look forward to supplying many more sustainable biojet fuel flights together with our partner SkyNRG,” said Bryan Sherbacow, president AltAir Fuels.

“SAA is committed to a sustainable future and this flight highlights the bold steps we are taking to protect and preserve our environment while creating opportunities for the economic development of our people,” said Musa Zwane, acting CEO of SAA. “We are pleased to join the ranks of global airlines who have made a commitment to a better and cleaner way of flying.”

Rolf Hogan, executive director RSB, added: "RSB is honored to be part of Project Solaris that has a positive impact in the Limpopo province in South Africa. This project can improve the lives of smallholder farmers in South Africa as well as inspire others around the world to show that it is possible to produce environmentally, ethically and socially sustainable biofuel. We hope this project serves as an example that can be duplicated around the world in various regions with diverse feedstocks."

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