This new innovation has come to change Africa’s aviation industry. Tobacco is soon going to be the next oil in Africa. South Africa just created history in Africa, with the first ever commercial planes to use biofuels. These planes carried 300 passengers between Johannesburg and Cape Town on July 15.

These Boeing jets, which are operated by South African Airways (SAA), were partly powered by nicotine-free, high-energy “Solaris” tobacco plants cultivated by farmers in Limpopo Province. This project called “Project Solaris,” is a partnership between biochemists Sunchem SA, fuel specialists SkyNRG, SAA, and Boeing.

The project which was launched in 2014 aims at delivering “local, sustainable jet fuel production” at large scale.

“Solaris has very strong potential compared to other biofuel feedstocks,” says RSB Executive Director Rolf Hogan. “It produces several harvests per year and a large amount of oil per hectare compared to other crops.

“This is very significant as it proves we can use this biofuel,” says Ian Cruickshank, SAA Group Environmental Affairs Specialist. “It shows the industry is really changing. Four or five years ago biofuel was seen as futuristic, and today it’s here.”

Cruikshank says the flights will build confidence among investors, including the South African government, which will allow the scheme to scale up. He believes that producing fuels locally will offer major benefits and savings to the wider economy.

“We won’t need to buy dollars or oil, so we will not be hostage to oil price variations,” he says, adding that scaled up production of the Solaris plants would also create thousands of jobs.

De Feijter adds that the Solaris crop offers new opportunities to farmers that have suffered with the falling demand for tobacco as smoking prevalence decreases in South Africa.

“Every hectare we plant creates a full-time job,” he says. Project Solaris aims to plant 250,000 hectares by 2025.

Solaris plants also have the advantage of being certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), a global body that issues standards for sustainability practice.

This is such an amazing project hope it doesn’t die down.

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