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South African Airways, Swissport, Sunchem, iLive and Royal Bafokeng Nation launch Project Reya Fofa

In South Africa, national air carrier South African Airways (SAA), airport handling service providers Swissport, feedstock producers Sunchem SA, biodiesel producer iLive Sustainable Development Holdings Pty Ltd (iLive), and The Royal Bafokeng Nation via its implementing entity Moumo Integrated Development have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) marking the launch of Project Reya Fofa, a follow-up to the "tobacco-to-biojet" Solaris Project.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signatories at the launch of Solaris Biofuel Cooperation Project Reya Fofa on November 28, 2019, Wilfried H Euler (left), Director iLive Sustainable Development; Christian Zweifel, CEO Swissport SA; Diamond Kekana, CEO Moumo Integrated Development; Sergio Tommasini, Director Sunchem Holdings and Richard Hunt, COO Swissport SA (photo courtesy Sunchem).

In 2016, South African Airways (SAA) and its wholly-owned subsidiary and low-cost carrier, Mango Airlines, made history as the first two airlines in Africa to operate commercial flights respectively, which were powered by sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) produced from Sunchem’s nicotine-free tobacco plant, Solaris.

The event demonstrated it is possible to use a locally produced feedstock to manufacture biojet 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.

“We are flying”

The launch of Project Reya Fofa marks the start of the follow-up to Project Solaris and will introduce Solaris-based biodiesel into the ground-handling operations at O.R.Tambo International Airport.

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.

We are very proud to have achieved this next milestone of commercialising the Solaris crop in South Africa and contributing to the development of localised sustainable fuel production, said Sergio Tommasini, CEO of  SunChem.

The next phase will be rolled out in a collaboration between Sunchem, Swissport, The Royal Bafokeng Nation through its implementing entity Moumo Integrated Development and biodiesel producer iLive. This is endorsed by South African Airways (SAA).

Completed in 2016, the iLive biodiesel pilot plant has a capacity of 300 000
litres of biodiesel made from used cooking oil (UCO) as feedstock. Co-funded
by Energy and Environment Partnership Trust Fund (EEP Africa), the plan
is to scale-up to 7 million litres per annum capacity (photo courtesy iLive).

The project will support a feasible scale-up of feedstock production and infrastructure such that a fully localised value chain for a hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) biorefinery may be achieved in the coming years, producing biojet fuel and green diesel. This is also in line with SAA’s commitment to transform all its supply chains to be more sustainable.

This is a tremendous project for the South African transport sector to partake in the global transformation for more sustainable fuels. We, as young local biodiesel producers, are pleased to be part of this future and helping it to be realised, said Werner Euler, Managing Director, ILive.

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 percent of its fuel with locally and environmentally sustainably produced biofuel.

SAA is “steadfast in working” to become the leading African airline to operate biofuel-powered flights on a sustainable basis in, and to markets on the African continent.

Sustainable and transformative

“Reya Fofa” is Setswana for “We are flying” and demonstrates the vision of the project to be inclusive and transformative. Beyond the climate and other environmental benefits of sustainable biofuel, 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, minimized risk of foreign exchange exposure, tax revenues, and skills transfers.

The project partners are committed to achieving Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) certification for the project, ensuring that it delivers on real social, environmental and climate benefits. RSB certification will demonstrate that locally produced biofuel can support food security, job creation, biodiversity and will showcase the potential of the South African bioeconomy to the world.

Planting Sunchem Holdings nicotine-free tobacco in South Africa for use as a biofuel feedstock. Launched in August 2014, Project Solaris aims to develop a biojet fuel value chain in South Africa amongst the consortium consisting of South African Airways (SAA), Sunchem, Boeing and SkyNRG (photo courtesy Project Solaris).

Scaling the cultivation of feedstock to reach the desired level of production of biojet 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 biofuel supply chains.

Specialized in sustainable feedstock production and developing applications nicotine-free tobacco variety Solaris, Netherlands-headed Sunchem BV is committed to bringing its Solaris crop to Africa to support the African energy transition.

Furthermore, Sunchem was Africa’s first RSB certified company thus 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 its 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.

Airport ground services provider Swissport SA plans to utilise biodiesel and renewable diesel from Project Reya Fofa in its ground operation vehicles at O.R. Tambo International Airport (photo courtesy Swissport SA).

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