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South African sugarcane ethanol shows SAF potential – RSB

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) has been working with the South African Canegrowers Association (SA Canegrowers) to identify opportunities for South African sugarcane ethanol to access local and international biofuels markets, particularly for the production of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF). A joint report finds that sugarcane — a crop grown in significant quantities in South Africa — provides a wholly viable feedstock for the production of SAF.

Amongst other things, SA Canegrowers does research on run improved seedcane varieties with seedcane plots in rural areas for the specific aim of supplying certified and disease-free seed for small-scale growers (photo courtesy SA Canegrowers).

Sugar production in South Africa has declined by 25 percent in recent years, partly due to a flood of cheap imports, and with farmers incurring unsustainable financial losses urgent change is required. The South African sugarcane industry is looking to urgently diversify in order to future-proof an industry made up of commercial farmers and 18 770 small-scale farmers, who combined, employ 65 000 people directly and 270 000 indirectly.

With 12.5 percent of South Africa’s 19 million tonne sugarcane yield produced by small-scale farmers and the whole industry providing vital rural employment, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production from South African cane offers real opportunities to develop and diversify the rural economy.

Demand for SAF that offers a minimum of 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to conventional jet fuel, while also carrying a credible environmental and social sustainability certification, is growing globally — driven by new policy mandates, passenger demand, and industry targets.

SA sugarcane a viable SAF feedstock

With support from Boeing, research conducted jointly by RSB and SA Canegrowers, an RSB member, confirms that South African sugarcane — a crop grown in significant quantities in the Northern Eastern part of the country — provides a wholly viable feedstock for the production of SAF.

The three-part report (market analysis, sustainability gap, and GHG emissions) finds that as such, the sugarcane sector in South Africa should strongly consider SAF as a diversification option.

However, South African irrigated sugarcane is still a GHG-intensive crop because of the coal-based energy mix dominant in the country. The diversification of South Africa’s energy mix in favour of renewables has the potential to dramatically strengthen the competitive advantage of local irrigated feedstock — including sugarcane — in the global SAF marketplace.

As the South African government looks to strengthen social development and rural economies, the urgent transition from a reliance on coal for energy to renewables is clearer than ever.

RSB is perfectly positioned to support governmental and industry players who are ready to commit to producing SAF that does not negatively impact food security, water availability, local communities, and ecosystems.

We are continually working to find more ways to reduce the impact of flying on our environment, and sustainable fuels are a key piece of this—that’s why we’re proud to support this critical research by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials and the South African Canegrowers Association. Sustainability is a priority for our company, and Boeing is committed to continuing to support programs like this as we innovate and operate to make the world better for our industry and our communities, said Bernard Dunn, VP of Boeing International and President, Boeing Middle East, Africa, and Turkey.

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