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.