Boeing manufactures biofuel from smoke

You can not use smoke during a flight, but it seems your plane can. OR Boeing is working with South African Airways to start feeding its planes with a biofuel produced from a new kind of tobacco plant.

Boeing Boeing Boeing
Photo Wired

Biofuels work just like fossil fuels, but they are made from renewable sources, such as seaweed, wood, agricultural waste. Finding alternatives is a key target for the aviation industry because fuel is the largest airline's cost (representing one-third of all operating costs). In addition to saving money, the International Air Transport Association estimates that biofuels can reduce the overall carbon footprint of the industry by 80 per cent.

Boeing has several biofuel projects running on six continents. The latest project, announced on Wednesday, began in October when South African Airways approached the company from Seattle to develop a sustainable supply chain for biofuels. South Africa is committed to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 34% to 2020 and 42% by 2025. South African Airways wishes to use local biofuels until 2017.

Boeing and the airline have decided to use smoke instead of established biofuel sources such as seaweed. For biofuel to make sense, says Boeing Jessica Kowal, the raw material should be grown locally (to minimize transport costs and carbon footprint from them). It should fit into existing supply chains, and not create problems with the land and water used. Tobacco is already grown in South Africa, says Wired. As there are global anti-smoking campaigns, the country will continue to cultivate and minimize the impact of these campaigns on farmers.

The kind of plant, called Solaris, and used for fuel is produced by SkyNRG, a fuel company. This plant produces large seeds, which contain the vegetable oil from which the fuel is made. It contains almost no nicotine.

It will take several years for the South African Airway fleet to use the biofuel coming out of the smoke, as production needs to increase. According to the plan in 2017, the airline will not suddenly stop using conventional fuels. The idea is, as with all biofuels, to mix the tobacco product with conventional fuels. "This is the only possible approach," says Kowal, "because change must be gradual."

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