Last updated: 03:30 PM ET, Mon July 25 2016

South African Airways to Utilize Tobacco-Powered Jets

Airlines & Airports | South African Airways | Michael Schottey | July 25, 2016

South African Airways to Utilize Tobacco-Powered Jets

PHOTO: South African Airways Plane (Photo by David Cogswell )

Business? Economy? Menthol?

South African Airways is operating a brand new Boeing-built jet that runs on biofuel developed from nicotine-free Tobacco. 300 passengers took the inaugural flight on the new aircraft on July 15 between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The flight was a big win for “Project Solaris,” which is attempting to create a biofuel which is not only sustainable, but also complies to environmental and social standards.

Biofuel is a huge industry, but it’s important to note that not all biofuels are created equal.

Corn-based ethanol, for example, is not very efficient at creating a biomass to convert into fuel and some experts actually believe its production has a negative total effect on the environment. On the other end of the spectrum, Africa has been a victim of the shadier sides of the biofuel industry, and critics worry that utilizing the continent’s scarce agricultural resources on fuel may create wide-ranging problems from upsetting social norms to exacerbating already devastating food shortages.

Project Solaris hopes to change all of that.

The choice of tobacco was a strategic move in more ways than one. Not only does the crop produce a large amount of oil, but it had long been a valuable cash crop for South African farmers. As smoking rates have dropped precipitously on the African continent mirroring other places in the world, tobacco farmers were left out of work.

 READ MORE: Could New NASA Design Bring Us Closer to Battery-Powered Flights? 

So, this new tobacco provides hope for farmers just as much as it provides hope to a warming planet quickly running out of nonrenewable energy sources. If the South African government responds favorably to the ongoing tests, Solaris hopes to expand and could find its way into nearby countries like Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  

Project Solaris is a partnership between biochemistry firm Sunchem SA, fuel specialists SkyNRG, South African Airways, and Boeing. 

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