South African Airways (SAA) and its wholly-owned subsidiary and low cost carrier, Mango Airlines, made history in 2016 as the first two airlines in Africa to operate commercial flights respectively, which were powered by sustainable aviation fuel produced from Sunchem’s nicotine-free tobacco plant, Solaris.
That momentous occasion demonstrated it is possible to use a locally produced feedstock to manufacture bio-jet fuel for commercial aviation that meets all necessary sustainability criteria required by the international and multi-stakeholder organisation on biomaterial production and processing, Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB). This approach has been endorsed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and NGOs globally as the strongest sustainability standard for biofuels.
Today marks the launch of Project Reya Fofa, the follow up to Project Solaris.
The project will introduce Solaris-based biodiesel into the ground-handling operations at O.R .Tambo International Airport. This will support a feasible scale-up of feedstock production and infrastructure such that a fully localised value chain for a Hydro-treated Vegetable Oil (HVO) refinery may be achieved in the coming years, producing bio-jet fuel and green diesel. The next phase will be rolled out in a collaboration between Sunchem, Swissport, The Royal Bafokeng Nation (through implementing entity Moumo Integrated Development) and iLive. This is endorsed by South African Airways (SAA).
Aviation currently contributes 2-2.5% to worldwide CO2 emissions (the equivalent of Canada). Whilst compared to other industries this may not appear exorbitant, the fast growth in air traffic and the related increase in jet fuel consumption means that by 2050 global aviation could account for over 22% of all CO2 emissions. As such, the reduction of aviation’s emissions is a critical component of global climate mitigation action aimed at limiting warming to 1.5 °C.
SAA is fully committed to sustainable environmental transformation whilst supporting the creation of employment and new industries in South Africa, with the ultimate goal of blending 50% of its fuel with locally and environmentally sustainably produced biofuel. SAA is steadfast in working to become the leading African airline to operate bio-fuel powered flights on a sustainable basis in, and to markets on the African continent.
Beyond the climate and other environmental benefits of sustainable bio-fuel, a localised supply chain will have immense transformative power in terms of job creation, rural socio-economic development and macro-economic impacts such as a positive contribution to the Balance of Payments, minimised risk of foreign exchange exposure, tax revenues, and skills transfers.
The project partners are committed to achieving RSB certification for the project, ensuring that it delivers on real social, environmental and climate benefits. RSB certification will demonstrate that locally produced bio-fuel can support food security, job creation, biodiversity and much more. This will showcase the potential of the South African bio-economy to the world.
Scaling the cultivation of feedstock to reach the desired level of production of bio-jet fuel requires a roadmap that is based on an organic increase in land under cultivation and outlines the related investment and policy support required to develop large-scale local bio-fuel supply chains.
Sunchem is committed to bringing its Solaris crop to Africa to support the African energy transition. Furthermore, Sunchem was Africa’s first RSB certified company therefore ensuring the highest standards in sustainable production. Sunchem actively engages throughout the value chain as the project integrator.
Given Swissport’s goal to promote environmental responsibility in their services and encourage the development and application of environmentally conscious technologies, they have come alongside SAA to support the uptake of biodiesel from the Solaris project. It serves to put their environmental commitments into practice in South Africa whilst supporting SAA in beginning to transform their fuel supply at O.R. Tambo International Airport to be more sustainable and localised.
Reya Fofa is Setswana and Sesotho for “We are flying” and demonstrates the vision of the project to be inclusive and transformative.
The vision of Project Reya Fofa is truly a circular one – protein and fiber are other major co-products of the crop and as such, the project partners are working to include these into the catering and textile requirements of the aviation sector. This is also in line with SAA’s commitment to transform all its supply chains to be more sustainable.
photo: Maarten Visser