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Tobacco use to be allowed on planes as fuel

Smoking may have been banned on planes since the nineties, but now it seems that planes themselves could soon be using tobacco to fly through the skies.

Plane company Boeing has joined forces with South Africa Airways to turn tobacco plants into jet fuel as part of their campaign to cut carbon emissions. The jet fuel would be made from a plant named Solaris, a hybrid of the tobacco plant.

The plant – which will be grown by alternative jet fuel maker SkyNRG – is currently being tested in South Africa, with hopes that the new biofuel will be available in a matter of a few years. This particular strain of the plant is perfect for use as fuel because of its abundance of high energy oil producing seeds and extremely low nicotine levels.

Unlike the fossil fuels currently being used to power carriers, biofuels are made from renewable sources – so it benefits the environment down below as well as up in the clouds.

The International Air Transport Association estimates that using biofuel could cut the flying industry’s carbon footprint by a whopping 80%.

J Miguel Santos, Managing Director for Africa Boeing International said: “It’s an honour for Boeing to work with South African Airways on a pioneering project to make sustainable jet fuel from an energy-rich tobacco plant.

“South Africa is leading efforts to commercialise a valuable new source of biofuel that can further reduce aviation’s environmental footprint and advance the region’s economy.”

Boeing currently has biofuel projects underway in six continents, to get the project moving as quickly as possible. To further minimise the industry’s carbon footprint, the tobacco would be locally grown to reduce the need for long distance transportation. This would also benefit South Africa’s tobacco farmers, who now have reason to continue growing their plants as the nation strives to reduce smoking.

Initially the biofuel is going to be mixed with fossil fuel because the shift would need to be made gradually in order to work. It’s a big step forwards for environmental health, as well the health of certain airplane companies’ public image.

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