News / Science & Technology

Boeing Looks to Make Tobacco Into Fuel in S. Africa

FILE - South African Airways passenger jet.
FILE - South African Airways passenger jet.

Related Articles

Video Philadelphia Laundry Succeeds by Being Green

Social innovator launched Wash Cycle Laundry four years ago and not only achieved his initial goals but has plans to expand the business to other cities

It’s rare to see tobacco being smoked on airline flights these days, but in the near future, tobacco could be used to power commercial jetliners.
Boeing, South African Airways and SkyNRG have announced an initiative to create biofuel from a new kind of tobacco plant.
The hybrid plant, known as Solaris, was developed by SkyNRG, a Dutch firm, is nicotine free and, according to Julie Felgar, managing director for Boeing’s Environmental Strategy and Integration, has many more seeds than traditional tobacco plants.
For now, only the oil from the seeds will be used to make biofuel, but Felgar said technologies are being developed that could render fuel from the entire plant.
"By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking," said Ian Cruickshank, South African Airways Group Environmental Affairs Specialist in a statement. "This is another way that SAA and Boeing are driving development of sustainable biofuel while enhancing our region's economic opportunity."
There are two drivers pushing biofuel.
First, over the past decade, aviation fuel prices have been volatile and increasingly higher, Felgar said. This, she added, makes it hard to operate. She said fuel accounts for around 35 to 40 percent of airlines’ operating costs.
Secondly, airlines want to reduce their carbon footprint.
According to the International Air Transport Association, which represents 240 airlines, the aviation industry accounts for 2 percent of global, man-made carbon emissions. Five years ago, the group said the industry was committed to capping carbon emissions.
Boeing said sustainable biofuels could reduce carbon emissions “by 50 to 80 percent” compared to jet fuel.
That will be difficult for an industry that operates on razor thin margins and is expected to grow rapidly over the next 20 years. Felgar said Boeing expects orders of 36,000 planes over that time.
Boeing’s goal is that by 2016, the sustainable aviation biofuel supply will be capable of meeting 1 percent (600 million gallons) of global jet fuel demand.
Tobacco won’t be a panacea, but merely a piece of the puzzle in moving toward widespread use of biofuel. Today, biofuels power only a tiny sliver of flights.
Different regions of the world may have different biofuel solutions.
As potential source of biofuel in the United Arab Emirates, Boeing said it was looking at the viability of a halophyte plant that can be irrigated with seawater. In Brazil, the company said, biofuels have been made from sugar cane. Another source can be found in discarded chicken fat.
Felgar said it’s hard to predict when airlines’ use of biofuels will take off, but that developments over the past 7 to 8 years would indicate an “inflection point is coming up.”
Other factors will help as well, such as better designed aircraft and more efficient operations on the ground, Felgar said.
While many biofuels have been criticized for infringing on food crops, using water and land that could be used to grow consumable plants, Felgar said Boeing is working to ensure its biofuel is sustainable.

Felgar said South Africa was a logical choice for this initiative because “South African Airlines is very progressive in their environmental commitment,” and that using the hybrid tobacco will help rural tobacco farmers who have been negatively impacted by decreasing demand for their product.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Donald Fraser Miles from: Elliot Lake, Canada
August 08, 2014 7:33 AM
Tobacco I have long believed is an invaluable plant that has been wrongly tarnished due to its connection to cancer through smoking. Tobacco will be considered as valuable as aspirin one day in the future. If I were an investor, I would invest heavily in tobacco growing for medicinal and industrial uses. This change for tobacco's image will bring healthy changes in our general outlook in life as we see positive aspects that some negative aspects have blinded us to seeing. It is indeed a theory I have had that the consumption of tobacco in the right levels as a food through tea or medicinal pills might even be a cure for cancer. We must see all aspects of an element or natural product in order to get the most out of it.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs