Project Solaris is a joint initiative of Sunchem SA (JV between Sunchem Holding and an international group of investors) and SkyNRG, the world’s market leader for bio jet fuel. On the 8th of December 2014, the partners officially launched the project in Marble Hall (SA), with the aim to roll out Solaris in Southern Africa at large scale to lay the basis for (local) sustainable jet fuel production.
Over the past few years, there has been a rapid increase in demand for sustainable biomass and bio-energy resources, globally but also in South Africa. Energy tobacco “Solaris”, can be grown very sustainably, and yields significant amounts of vegetable oil, press cake (i.e. cattle feed) and both woody and green biomass. As such, the crop provides an opportunity to grow sustainable bio-energy resources, while stimulating socio-economic development in South Africa. The combination of available land (partly caused by the decreasing local conventional tobacco industry), a need for employment, the increased demand for sustainable bio-energy, and good (regional) knowledge on growing tobacco, provides an excellent opportunity to grow energy tobacco in South Africa.
About the Crop
The Solaris crop, also referred to as “energy tobacco” was developed by the Italian research & development company Sunchem Holding that holds the processing IP and plant variety rights. It is a traditionally cross bred variety of tobacco that contains no nicotine, has excessive seed and limited leaf production compared to traditional tobacco. It grows under different climate and soil conditions, is cultivated in roughly the same way as traditional tobacco and is exceptionally suited as rotation crop with cotton. Although an annual crop, it can be harvested at least three times a year. The seeds contain 33% oil and 67% press cake (fit for animal feed), on top of that the harvest yields significant amounts of green biomass. All agronomic inputs needed, such as, fertilizer, water, crop protection etc. are similar to traditional tobacco farming. Therefore the local communities are already familiar with using the protocols, irrigation, way of soil preparation etc.