South African Airways switching to tobacco biofuel in 2015

South African Airways switching to tobacco biofuel in 2015 | 10/12/14
Originally posted at

South African farmers would soon harvest their first crop of energy-rich tobacco plants, an important step towards using the plants to make sustainable aviation biofuel, South African Airways (SAA) and American aeroplane maker Boeing announced yesterday.

Solaris plantation in South Africa
Solaris plants, a new hybrid type of tobacco plant, at a test farm in South Africa’s Limpopo province (Photo: SkyNRG)

SAA and Boeing, along with partners SkyNRG and Sunchem SA, also officially launched Project Solaris, their collaborative effort to develop an aviation biofuel supply chain using a nicotine-free, GMO-free tobacco plant called Solaris.

Company representatives and industry stakeholders visited commercial and community farms in Marble Hall, Limpopo Province, where 50 hectares of Solaris have been planted.

The test crop will be harvested for the first time in December.

Oil from the plant’s seeds may be converted into bio-jet fuel as early as 2015, with a test flight by SAA as soon as practicable.


SAA continues to work towards becoming the most environmentally sustainable airline in the world and is committed to a better way of conducting business. — Ian Cruickshank, the airline’s environmental affairs specialist

It plans to scale-up its use of biofuels for its flights to 20-million litres in 2017, before reaching 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. — Ian Cruickshank

Lower costs

It would also lower the fuel costs of SAA, which contributed between 39% and 41% of the state-owned airline’s total operating costs.

It is very exciting to see early progress in South Africa towards developing sustainable aviation biofuel from energy-producing tobacco plants.

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. — J. Miguel Santos, Boeing International managing director for Africa


The farm visits followed the announcement in August that SAA, Boeing and SkyNRG, an international market leader for bio-jet fuel, based in the Netherlands, were collaborating to make aviation biofuel from the Solaris plant, which was developed and patented by Sunchem Holding, a research and development company based in Italy.

If the test farming in Limpopo is successful, the project will be expanded in South Africa and potentially to other countries.

In coming years, emerging technologies are expected to increase aviation biofuel production from the plant’s leaves and stems.

Sustainable aviation biofuel made from Solaris plants can reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by 50% to 75%, ensuring it meets the sustainability threshold set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB).

Test flights

Airlines have conducted more than 1600 passenger flights using aviation biofuel since the fuel was approved for commercial use in 2011.

  • Boeing is an industry leader in global efforts to develop and commercialise sustainable aviation biofuel.
  • Project Solaris began in 2012 with two hectares of crop, rising to 11 hectares in 2013, before expanding to the current 50 hectares.
  • The partners aim to expand the project to 30,000 hectares by 2020, leading to the production of 140,000 tons of jet fuel, the creation of 50,000 direct jobs and a reduction of 267 kt of CO2 emissions.
  • They envisage 250 000 hectares by 2025, according to SkyNRG chief technology officer Maarten van Dijk.

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US Dept of Energy bets $10 mn on Advanced Biofuels from Biomass

U.S. Department of Energy press release | 15/04/14

Energy Dept Announces $10 Million for Technologies to Produce Advanced Biofuel Products from Biomass

Biofuel produced from biomass can utilize organic waste to produce useful and clean feedstock for refineries, to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Image courtesy of:
Biofuel produced from biomass can produce useful and clean feedstock for refineries to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Image courtesy of:

The U.S. Energy Department today announced up to $10 million in funding to advance the production of advanced biofuels, substitutes for petroleum-based feedstocks, and bioproducts made from renewable, non-food-based biomass, such as agricultural residues and woody biomass.

This supports the Department’s efforts to make drop-in biofuels more accessible and affordable, as well as meet the cost target equivalent of $3.00 per gallon of gasoline by 2022.

The Energy Department encourages industry to invest in the production of cost-competitive, advanced biofuels and bioproducts from renewable, abundant biomass.

Advancing and commercializing cost-competitive biofuels will help the Department work toward its goal of reducing current petroleum consumption in the United States by approximately 30%, and, in turn, enhance U.S. national security and reduce carbon emissions.

For more information and application requirements, visit the Funding Opportunity Exchange website.

The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy accelerates development and deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and market-based solutions that strengthen U.S. energy security, environmental quality, and economic vitality.

Learn more about EERE‘s work with industry, academia, and national laboratory partners on a balanced portfolio of research in biomass feedstocks and conversion technologies.

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Hot Sugar! The New Algae Biofuel

New Algae Biofuel: Holy Hot Sugar, Batman! | 20/02/14
by Tina Casey

When we say ‘hot sugar’ we mean a new generation of low cost industrial sugars that could help pull the biofuel market out of dependence on conventional crop based sugars. That leaves the field clear for the algae biofuel sector, and that’s where things start to get interesting.

A company called Proterro came across our radar last fall for just such an approach, which basically turns the first-generation biofuel model on its head.

Instead of taking apart plants to extract sugars for processing into biofuel, Proterro has figured out a way to get a micro-algae called cyanobacteria to secrete the “hot sugar” sucrose.

Industrial sugar production from cyanobacteria Courtesy of Proterro
Industrial sugar production from cyanobacteria. Image courtesy of Proterro

A Different Approach To Algae Biofuel

It’s worth noting up front that there are already several promising cost-effective pathways to extracting oils directly from algae and microalgae (here, here, and here for example), but there is plenty of room in this emerging fuel market for something different, namely, using algae to produce a sugar feedstock for fermentation into fuels and other products.

Also, for the record, cyanobacteria is commonly referred to as blue-green algae, but as its formal name indicates, it is actually a bacteria and not a form of marine plant life.

When we covered the news from Proterro last fall, the company had already won a US patent for its proprietary strain of cyanobacteria. In the latest development, Proterro has obtained a notice of allowance from the US patent office for the structural platform — a photobioreactor — that enables the bacteria to produce sugars at a highly efficient rate, in a process that uses carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water.

The Proterro Photobioreactor

According to Proterro, the photobioreactor is 30 times more productive than sugar cane, on an acreage basis, in terms of producing a “fermentation-ready” stream of sucrose.

That translates into a lower cost for sugar production, and part of the reason for that savings is the aforementioned photobioreactor.

Resembling a big earthbound balloon from the outside, the photobioreactor is actually a sturdy (withstanding Force 1 hurricane winds) built environment made from off-the-shelf materials.  Instead of using vats, pipes, or horizontal cultivating beds, the cyanobacteria grow on vertical fabric walls.

Before we move on let’s pause here and thank our friends over at Biofuels Digest for introducing us to the phrase “hot sugar.” Who knew?

Biofuels and Carbon Dioxide Capture

If a bell went off in your head when you saw carbon dioxide mentioned in the context of biofuels, you are in good company.

With a demonstration scale facility under its belt in Florida, Proterro is already prepared to scale up and hook up with carbon dioxide emitters to feed its cyanobacteria. Utility companies seem to be tops on its list, but there are numerous other opportunities out there for using microorganisms to capture industrial waste gasses and convert them into useful products.

A New Zealand company, for example, is already active in the field of capturing and converting emissions from steel mills.

That approach makes a lot more sense than some of the other carbon sequestration strategies under discussion these days, namely pumping it underground.

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This article, New Algae Biofuel: Holy Hot Sugar, Batman!, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+