A University of Central Florida professor has found a clean cheap way of making ethanol using orange peels, tobacco and other waste. By using tobacco plants to grow the necessary enzymes needed to break down waste products, a scorned crop may find redemption.
Prior to the scientific connection between tobacco products and cancer, emphysema, and other terminal diseases, tobacco crops were abundant and profitable in the South. According to the Los Angeles Times, from World War II to Vietnam, cigarettes were included with the K-rations and C-rations given to the armed forces. UW Health from the University of Wisconsin, states that practice was stopped when it became apparent that cigarettes were reducing soldier fitness and shortening the lives of returning service men.
Now UCF professor, Henry Daniell has found a new use for tobacco that will preserve food crops while providing enzymes and biomass for ethanol. The tobacco is used to produce the enzymes necessary to breakdown the waste products from fruit and other sources into sugars which are then fermented to create ethanol.
Daniell’s team cloned genes from wood-rotting fungi or bacteria and produced enzymes in tobacco plants. Producing these enzymes in tobacco instead of manufacturing synthetic versions could reduce the cost of production by a thousand times, which means the cost of making ethanol should be significantly reduced, Daniell said.
Tobacco was also a good choice because 40 metric tons of biomass are “produced annually for each acre of tobacco plants”. So the tobacco would provide both enzymes and a tremendous amount of biomass to turn in to ethanol.
A number of other universities have been exploring ways to improve ethanol production and are in the process of being commercialized. The University of Georgia and Iowa State are working on new technologies as are Dartmouth, Georgia Tech and the University of Toronto, to name just a few.
Dr. Daniell has more research to perform before his process is ready for commercial use. With several other Universities working on ethanol projects, Dr. Daniell may wind up being left in the dust. Hopefully many of these processes might be compatible and easy to combine into a truly affordable high powered ethanol.