Carbon From Tobacco Can Be Biofuel
Wed, 06/06/2012 - 4:11am
The objective of a Univ. of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory project is to use light to convert carbon in tobacco leaves into biofuels. Researchers chose use tobacco for this experiment for several reasons; one is that it's a high biomass plant so it makes a lot of mass. So if one wants to extract oil then the more leaf biomass one has the better.
Unfortunately plants don't use light energy that efficiently. Just like on highways, there are certain areas that traffic gets congested and it doesn't move very well. Plants networks are the same way. So if researchers are trying to make an oil, and there are many different steps, sometimes at a particular step it gets clogged up. Researchers need to know which one of those steps gets clogged up so they can figure out how to funnel carbon through that pathway more efficiently.
In the university’s strategy they'll do that more directly by simply moving the carbon directly into oils by using processes that already occur in certain algae and cyanobacteria.
“We want to produce biofuels directly in the leaves. So we want to harvest the leaves and extract the biofuel molecules out of there and use them as drop-in fuels,” says Christer Jansson. “We need to find out what additional steps we need to take to optimize production on these high carbon fuels.”
Optimizing the process could lead to a wider production of biofuel. Jansson points that that there could be economic benefits, “Once we have a plant and a production yield that promises commercial levels within the near future, I think we will be able to attract the interest of the big tobacco companies. Growing tobacco for cigarette consumption is a dwindling industry and we believe that converting tobacco into a bioenergy crop will also generate a new market for tobacco farmers.”
Source: Univ. of California