On July 15, for the first time, South African Airways completed a flight using a biofuel made from tobacco. The one-way flight carried 300 passengers from Johannesburg to Cape Town using 6,300 liters of biofuel.
Sunchem, the firm who has developed the biofuel
Thanks to the research of the biochemists of Sunchem, the Italian enterprise who has developed a process to extract biofuel from tobacco seeds, we are witnessing what could be a turning point for commercial aviation. The environmental impact deriving from it could be considerably reduced by using this special biofuel, which could also give work to a lot of people.
In fact, the project has brought economic development to South Africa’s Limpopo province, in the north-eastern part of the country, where the tobacco plants necessary for the production of the fuel have been cultivated by local farmers. “This first flight is a source of pride for us,” said Carlo Ghilardi, Sunchem’s founder. “Italian ingenuity and resources are the basis of this worldwide success.” The enterprise, headquartered in Arma di Taggia, a little town in the Italian region Liguria, is now looking for partnerships with other airlines in order to broaden the development of biofuels.
Solaris, the perfect tobacco variety
Largely cultivated for cigarettes production, tobacco plantations are spread all over the world. But in 2007 Italian enterprise Sunchem developed a process to extract biofuel from the seeds of this plant. Normal tobacco plants, however, produce a large amount of leaves and just a few flowers. So, after many years of research, in 2011 they obtained “Solaris”, a tobacco variety which perfectly fits to the purpose.
Easily adaptable to different soils and climates, “Solaris” tobacco is a very robust plant which could be cultivated in various environments. It is characterized by smaller leaves and a generous growth of flowers. The seeds are non-GMO and nicotine-free. After the fuel production process, the remaining part of the seeds can be used for livestock feeding.