Transport Airlines

Boeing Is Betting on Tobacco to Make Flying Better


Aug 06, 2014 9:00 am

Skift Take

With Boeing setting up roots in the U.S. south and planting its 787-10 production in South Carolina, the Solaris development begs a question: how long until Boeing takes advantage of tobacco traditions in the U.S., too?

— Marisa Garcia

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The Boeing 787 Dreamliner sits on the tarmac at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington. Robert Sorbo / Reuters

Boeing has partnered with South African Airways and SkyNRG to turn a new tobacco plant into jet fuel — and that’s good news for airlines, passengers, and the environment.

“By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking,” said Ian Cruickshank, South African Airways Group Environmental Affairs Specialist. “This is another way that SAA and Boeing are driving development of sustainable biofuel while enhancing our region’s economic opportunity.”

The hybrid tobacco plant in question is called Solaris and test farming is already underway in a series of small and large farms in South Africa.

“We strongly believe in the potential of successfully rolling out Solaris in the Southern African region to power sustainable fuels that are also affordable,” said Maarten van Dijk, Chief Technology Officer, SkyNRG.

The new Biofuel’s production is expected in the next few years, using oil from the seeds gathered from this hybrid plant, but Boeing anticipates that emerging technologies will ultimately increase the production using the rest of the plant.

While green initiatives and carbon footprints may have lost luster in the travel sector, jet biofuel is a different matter entirely for aviation. If jet fuel can effectively be farmed, the aviation industry could free itself from a reliance on fossil fuels and the costs and supply challenges associated with that market.

Best of all–it’s nicotine-free. We’re not really sure why that matters. If the planes got addicted to this jet fuel, it would probably be good for business all around.

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