The Boeing Company has teamed with the South African government, South African Airways (SAA), the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and U.S. energy firm SKYNRG, to identify biofuel feed stocks in Africa. Boeing Commercial Airplanes regional director for environmental strategy Elizabeth Wood announced the initiative during the Africa Aviation Biofuel Summit on March 20 in Addis Ababa, where the partners deliberated with Ethiopian government officials on the use of sustainable aviation fuel. Separately, RSB signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ethiopian Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Mines, Petroleum, and Natural Gas calling for collaboration on biofuel research and development.
African aviation made history in July 2016, when SAA and its subsidiary Mango flew the first-ever flights in Africa fueled by biofuel made from tobacco plants. The Boeing 737-800s flew from OR Tambo International Airport near Johannesburg and over Cape Town.
Wood highlighted the use of tobacco plants grown in the Marble Hall region in Limpopo, South Africa, in the production of aviation biofuel. Not only does the project afford environmental benefits, but it also creates job opportunities for local communities. “If we want to produce aviation biofuel it has to be from local sources,” she said.
Arianna Baldo, RSB’s representative in Africa, also highlighted biofuel’s potential to create jobs in developing countries. “Biofuel development can create more jobs in agriculture, more jobs in the supply chain, and more jobs in bio refineries,” she said. However, she also noted that stakeholders must ensure that biofuel development does not compete for resources with food production.
Tjasa Bole-Rentel, energy economics and policy specialist at WWF South Africa, said that Africa has become one of the world’s major growth areas for aviation biofuel feedstock. According to Bole-Rentel, some 550 million hectares of land lies potentially available for production of biofuel feed stock in Africa. Refiners can produce aviation biofuel from miscanthus (silvergrass), palm oil, jatropha plants, and biomass, among others sources.
Currently, refineries around the world, led by the U.S., Europe, and Brazil, produce 150 billion liters of biofuel annually. ICAO forecasts that fuel consumption for international aviation could run as high as 850 million tons by 2050, suggesting a requirement for 425 million tons of biofuel to meet greenhous gas emissions-reduction goals. Current production, however, remains limited, at less than 0.1 percent of the global total consumption of all types of jet fuel.