Feeds

Tobacco biofuel to solve energy/ environment crisis?

Baccy-burner cars, boilers to make nonsense of smoking ban

Seven Steps to Software Security

Boffins in Philadelphia, America have come up with a radical new plan for biofuels. Rather than the cars of tomorrow running on various forms of alcohol, sunflower oil, algae etc, the scientists propose that they should instead be fuelled by burning tobacco.

"Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use plants that aren't used in food production," says Dr Vyacheslav Andrianov of Thomas Jefferson University.

"We have found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves express more oil. In some instances, the modified plants produced 20-fold more oil in the leaves."

It seems that typical baccy leaves contain 1.7 percent to 4 percent of oil as a proportion of dry weight. One gene modification tried out by Andrianov and his colleagues gave 6.8 percent of oil per dry weight.

Production of oil in the leaves is seen as the big trick. Tobacco seed oil has already been tried out in diesel engines, but baccy doesn't produce enough seeds to be useful - just 600kg per acre. However it is a "high-biomass" plant overall, once the leaves are included.

"Based on these data, tobacco represents an attractive and promising 'energy plant' platform, and could also serve as a model for the utilization of other high-biomass plants for biofuel production," says Andrianov, whose paper is soon to be published in the Plant Biotechnology Journal.

Baccy power would seem likely to suffer from the same issues as any other "first generation" or crop biofuel, however, despite Andrianov's optimism. Biofuels typically require the use of huge amounts of farmland to supply energy on the scale required by modern industrial civilisation, and this would still be the case with tobacco. Food might not be taken directly out of the market to make fuel, as happens with corn-based alcohols, but in the event of baccy power becoming a mainstream idea one might expect farmland to be switched from food production to tobacco. This would lead to starvation and deforestation just as ordinary biofuels do.

This is why many people keen to see biofuels succeed - for instance the aviation industry - prefer to focus on "second generation" feedstocks such as algae or jatropha, which could perhaps be grown in unused areas such as seas or deserts. Tobacco certainly doesn't fall into this class, however.

Tobacco farmers might still find the idea of an alternative, subsidised biofuel market pleasing in today's smoking-ban-swept world, though, just as US corn farmers and their powerful political allies do. And the nicotine-enslaved victims of the smoking bans would perhaps be on-side too, pleased at the idea of every car, train, home boiler etc puffing out clouds of delicious carcinogenic smoke. ®

The Power of One eBook: Top reasons to choose HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.