South African biofuel project recognised for sustainability

4 September 2015

A South African initiative, Project Solaris, received the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) certification this week for producing a crop that can be used as feedstock for bio jet fuel.

The energy-rich tobacco crop has been named “Solaris” and it is grown in South Africa’s Limpopo province. It is a nicotine-free and GMO-free plant that yields significant amounts of sustainable oil, which could be converted into bio jet fuel.

“Project Solaris has demonstrated that it can deliver sustainability on the ground in line with the RSBs global standard,” said RSB’s executive director, Rolf Hogan.

“This is the result of a serious commitment to working with local stakeholders, rural development and reducing greenhouse gases while safeguarding the Limpopo’s unique natural environment.”

Project Solaris got RSB involved from the start to make sure the correct standards were applied from the beginning. The programme was developed and patented by Sunchem Holding, a research and development company based in Italy.


Project Solaris has brought economic and rural development to Limpopo.

“Developing a biofuel crop in South Africa’s ‘breadbasket’ province has, of course, drawn us into the centre of the food vs fuel debate,” said Joost van Lier, the managing director of Sunchem South Africa.

“Having to undergo a systematic process of evaluating the social and environmental ramifications of this development as prescribed by the RSB has allowed us to feel confident in promoting Solaris, not only as a financially viable crop for farmers in the region, but also one that will not affect food security or lead to environmental degradation.”

Sergio Tommasini, the chief executive of Sunchem Holding, added: “Thanks to all partner efforts, we earned this important certificate. RSB believed in our technology and gave us the right advice to improve it during our scale up programme.”


As one of the main founders of Project Solaris, SkyNRG said the certification should play a central role in the aviation sector’s efforts to develop a truly sustainable jet fuel supply, while also meeting environmental and social safeguards.

“By receiving RSB certification, Project Solaris is achieving an important milestone for itself and for the aviation industry as a whole,” said Maarten van Dijk, the chief executive of SkyNRG.

Boeing, a premium sponsor of the programme, applauded South African Airways (SAA) and the South African government for ensuring the sustainability of their emerging aviation biofuel supply chain as it is being developed. “This milestone marks a very significant step forward in ensuring positive economic, social, and environmental outcomes for aviation and the planet,” said J Miguel Santos, Boeing International’s managing director for Africa.

Environmental and economic perks

Sustainable aviation biofuel made from Solaris plants can reduce lifecycle carbon emissions by 50% to 75%.

It would also lower the fuel costs of SAA, which contribute between 39% and 41% of the state-owned airline’s total operating costs.

RSB is an independent global multi-stakeholder coalition that works to promote the sustainability of biomaterials. Its certification scheme verifies that biomaterials are ethical, sustainable and credibly sourced.

SAinfo reporter