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Boeing teaming up with South African Airways to make jet fuel out of tobacco

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The quest to develop alternatives to jet fuel isn’t exactly a new thing, and now there’s a new effort to create a fuel that aims to both reduce pollution and help one country’s economy at the same time.

It was announced on Wednesday that Boeing Co. is teaming up with South African Airways to produce jet fuel using tobacco plants. SkyNRG, a Dutch company specializing in aviation biofuels, will also be involved in the effort and has been tapped to produce the hybrid tobacco plant known as Solaris.

A statement released by the companies says that we’ll hopefully see the actual biofuel output happen sometime in the “next few years,” but test farming is said to already be going on in South Africa. The country’s biofuels industry is a major agricultural industry for the continent as a whole and South Africa also hopes to start blending diesel and petrol with biofuel to curb reliance on imports by October 2015.

According to the companies involved, the effort will help cut down on carbon emissions because biofuels that incorporate organic materials such as plants or algae can reduce such emissions by as much as 80 percent.

In case you’re wondering, the plants are actually nearly nicotine-free and officials with SAA hope farming them in South Africa will give the economy a boost as well without disrupting current food or water supplies. Wired also notes that since the country is making an attempt to cut down on smoking, the initiative could help reduce the impact of fewer smokers on tobacco farmers.

"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.

Fuel is reportedly the costliest expense in the airline industry, making up about a third of the money it takes to operate. Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Kowal said a tobacco-based biofuel has potential in other places where the crop is already grown, such as other places in Africa, southern and central Europe, Asia, and Latin America.

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