Boeing Backs Biofuel Derived From Tobacco

The aviation industry continues to strive to be in the forefront of industries with regard to managing carbon emissions. To this end the industry aims to attain carbon-neutral growth by the year 2020 as laid out in a resolution dubbed “CNG2020”, as well as working toward cutting emission by up to 50% by 2050 in comparison with 2005. Biofuels are expected to play a significant role in meeting these goals as research and development continues to turn up new biofuel options, and Boeing recently announced that it is partnering with South African Airways (SAA) and SkyNRG to produce biofuel for aviation from the seeds of a new tobacco plant hybrid.

The new hybrid, named Solaris, is virtually nicotine-free and has a high seed yield. At this time the biofuel will be made from the seed only, but it is anticipated that with the development of new manufacturing processes, at a future date the entire plant may be used to produce biofuel. In a press release from SAA’s Group Environmental Affairs Specialist, Ian Cruickshank, it was noted that using hybrid tobacco allows the project to draw on the knowledge of South Africa‘s tobacco farmers, while giving them the alternative of growing a product the doesn’t encourage smoking. It is anticipated that the new biofuel will be in use in the next few years.

While it’s been proven that biofuels are workable, many onlookers have noted that price is likely to be an issue in implementing them on a large scale. Nobody is likely to take issue with existing tobacco fields being turned into biofuel producing areas, as is the case with food crops, but the question remains whether tobacco farms will be as economically viable producing biofuel crops. Also, various regions will need to find the biofuel crop that works best for them, for example Saudi Arabia is experimenting with a plant that can be grown in the desert and watered with sea water, while other options are algae-based biofuel, or biofuel generated from discarded cooking oil and other waste. Nevertheless, the focus on biofuel is encouraging as it raises awareness of the need to find viable alternatives to fossil fuels.