A Tobacco Tree Could be Used as Biofuel

Researchers at Royal Holloway have identified a tobacco tree that could produce biofuels, and have been awarded a grant for further research from the European Union.

Scientists at the School of Biological Sciences have discovered that a tobacco tree, Nicotiana Glauca, produces certain compounds that can be used as a biodiesel. Those compounds can be used directly as fuel or can be cracked in order to produce petroleum products.

The tree is capable of growing in warm and arid climates and does not need fertile land to thrive. The plant can grow in regions that receive little rain with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius. Studies have also shown that the plant is able to grow in desert climatic conditions, such as those found in the United Arab Emirates, North Africa, and other arid tropical regions of the world.

"This is a crucial factor," Dr. Paul Fraser from the School of Biological Sciences said. "It means that growing this crop will not be in competition for land space with food crops. Indeed, many farmers have already raised concerns about giving their land over to biofuel crops. Our discovery could potentially solve this issue."

The tree has been noted as a possible source of bioethanol and biodiesel, which can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but is usually used as an additive to reduce levels of particulates, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from diesel-powered vehicles. According to the International Energy Agency, biofuels have the potential to meet more than a quarter of world demand for transportation fuels by 2050.

The European Union has awarded funding to develop this work further through the MultiBioPro project. The project will look to provide new insights into biological processes and improve the use of renewable energy resources. These developments are expected to have a real impact on fossil-fuel based energy consumption, leading to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.