U.S. planemaker Boeing has teamed up with South African Airways to develop jet fuel from a tobacco plant as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions and promote green energy in Africa's most advanced economy.
The jet fuel will be made from a hybrid tobacco plant known as Solaris, which will be produced by alternative jet fuel maker SkyNRG, both companies said in a joint statement on Wednesday.
Test farming of the plants, which are nicotine-free, is ongoing in South Africa, with biofuel output expected in the "next few years", the companies said.
"By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking," Ian Cruickshank, SAA's Group Environmental Affairs Specialist, said.
This biofuel has potential in several regions where traditional tobacco is cultivated, including Africa, southern and central Europe, Asia, Oceania and Latin America, Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Kowal said.
South Africa has set the beginning of October next year as the date when fuel producers will start blending diesel and petrol with biofuel to cut its reliance on imported fuel.
The biofuels industry in South Africa, the continent's biggest agricultural producer, has been held back by an inadequate regulatory regime and concerns that biofuels would hurt food security and impact food prices.
Boeing, South African Airways to make jet fuel from tobacco
It’s been a few decades since smoking was allowed on airplanes in the U.S., but Boeing is now turning to tobacco as a way to make flying a plane cleaner for the planet.
The company announced today that it has partnered with South African Airways and SkyNRG to turn a type of tobacco plant into a sustainable biofuel for aviation, rather than relying on traditional jet fuel to power engines. The program is supposed to be a win-win: the new fuel will be better for the environment, and maintain the livelihoods of South African tobacco growers without promoting smoking.
“By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking,” South African Airways Group Environmental Affairs Specialist Ian Cruickshank said in a press release.
The hybrid tobacco plant that the companies plan to use for biofuels is known as Solaris, and is “effectively nicotine-free.” Right now, the plants are undergoing test farming in South Africa, and SkyNRG is ramping up production of the plants for a larger roll-out. At first, the company expects that the plants’ seeds will be used to make oil that can then be turned into a biofuel.
But in the future, Boeing said that it expects there to be a number of manufacturing processes that could take a whole Solaris plant and use it for fuel, rather than just the seeds.
Boeing says completed key design review for space taxi
Boeing Co has completed a key review of its design for a new commercial venture to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, making it the only one of four rival bidders to finish the NASA work on time, company officials said on Thursday.
Boeing is competing with Space Exploration Technologies Corp, or SpaceX, and privately held Sierra Nevada Corp, to develop and build U.S. commercial space taxis to transport astronauts, rather than relying on Russia to ferry them to the station.
The multibillion-dollar program has taken on new urgency in recent months, given escalating tensions with Russia over its annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.
NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Martin said the U.S. space agency planned to choose one or more of the competitors to continue working on the program in late August or early September.
Martin confirmed that Boeing had completed a critical design review of its offering in the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program. She said NASA was reviewing the data to determine if Boeing met its required "success criteria" for the review.
SpaceX and Sierra Nevada have sought and won extensions to finish their design reviews by May 2015. Blue Origin, a privately funded company set up by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is also vying for the work.
John Mulholland, vice president and program manager for Boeing's commercial space exploration programs, said the company faced some difficult challenges as it developed its design, but got "excellent" feedback from NASA during the review last month.
"From a technical standpoint, the review went very well," he said. "To the best of my knowledge we’re the only CCiCAP competitor that actually was able to complete all of the milestones in the period of performance," he said.
Mulholland said, measured in mass, the Boeing design for the cargo module was 96-percent complete at the time of the review, while its design for the crew module was 85-percent complete, two metrics that underscored the maturity of the design.
He said the critical design review marked a major step for the Boeing program. "You've got to be able to stand up at that review and show the analysis and tests that demonstrate that you're going to be able to meet those requirements," he said.
Boeing remains confident it could complete work on the new spacecraft in time to begin flight tests in 2017, Mulholland said.
He said Boeing's design would be launched into space using the Atlas 5 rocket built by the United Launch Alliance, a venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp.
That rocket uses a Russian-built RD-180 engine, which has also triggered some concerns given tensions with Russia.
He said the module was designed from the beginning to be compatible with other launch vehicles, if necessary, although that would still entail some modification of the interface between the spacecraft and the launcher.