COLLEGE STATION The U.S. Department of Energy has granted more than $1.8 million to a researcher looking at tobacco as a potential fuel source. And if that succeeds within 18 months, almost $2 million more will be given to transfer the technology into giant reed, a fast-growing grass species.
"The goal of our project is to make sure our country is the leader around the world in terms of energy and research," said Dr. Joshua Yuan, Texas AgriLife Research plant pathologist and lead investigator on the project. "Energy independence and energy costs are all important considerations for our country."
The project will use tobacco plants initially because of their ease of use in a laboratory. If the technology works in simple tobacco plants, the goal is to transfer the ability to make fuel in a plant to higher producing plants such as the reed. The targeted fuel for the project comes from terpenoids.
Terpenoids occur in all living things. In plants, they are responsible for many common scents and flavors eucalyptus, cinnamon and ginger, for example. They have been important for humans because of their antibacterial and pharmaceutical properties. But terpenoids are also hydrocarbons the prime source of combustible fuels -- and that speaks volumes to the energy department, the researchers noted.
"We are trying to develop a way to use a plant to directly make hydrocarbon fuel," said Yuan, who also is assistant professor of plant pathology and microbiology at Texas A&M University in College Station. "We want to make it so that one can easily extract or squeeze the fuel from the plants instead of going to an oil field to take the oil out."
The grant for Yuan and his team, which begins Feb. 15, comes from the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency Energy program which, among other things, is charged with focusing on "creative 'out-of-the-box' transformational energy research" t
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Texas A&M AgriLife Communications