In this project, Sunchem aims to validate and demonstrate the industrial feasibility and the economic viability of the Solaris cultivation in Europe. This project is enabled largely by funding from the European Union EASME programme which helps us to bring the full potential of Solaris to market. The past years we gained experience with agronomic trials in various countries and larger scale cultivation in South Africa. To transfer the bioenergy production with Solaris to Europe in a viable way improvements on mechanisation of the production process are required. Also, the integration into a sustainable biofuel value chain has to be examined.
Project Solaris wants to transfer the results from our previous experience to industrially developed countries with a long tobacco growing tradition in Europe. For this, the following goals are set out in Project Solaris:
- Creation of a commercially viable agronomic process and equipment development
- Validation of this with a pilot cultivation of 5 ha in Italy in season 2018 and 2019
- Examine the integration of a sustainable chain for sustainable jet fuel in Europe
Solaris is a cultivar of the commercial tobacco species (Nicotiana tabacum) with several outstanding characteristics. Solaris exhibits an ultra-low nicotine content in the leaves and seeds, in contradiction to other tobacco varieties this makes the crop suitable for (animal) consumption. Another distinctive feature is the exceptionally high seed yield of Solaris, producing up to 2,5 tons of seed per hectare per harvest. Solaris allows for multiple harvests of seedpods per year, up to three times in South Africa and two harvests in Italy. With an oil content of about 38% in the seed this delivers 2-3 tons of vegetable oil per year.
As with all energy intensive industries, the aviation sector also has to adopt to more environmentally friendly energy sources. For large passenger and cargo planes sustainable drop-in fuels are the only option on the short to mid-term as other energy carriers would increase the weight of the planes too much. Since 2011, a Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) bio-jet fraction, produced through hydrogenation of vegetable oils with HEFA process (Hydrotreated Esters and Fatty Acids) was approved ASTM for use in commercial flights with blends up to 50%. Initially edible vegetable oils (palm oil and soy bean oil) were the most viable feedstock for this process. However, these are not considered the most sustainable options due to ILUC and food security issues. The use of palm oil for transport fuels will be phased out by 2030 according to the new EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED-II). Used cooking oil (UCO) and sustainably produced Solaris vegetable oil are the best alternative. Solaris oil will be certified according the requirements of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) by the RSB certification scheme.