Could Our Cars Run on Tobacco?

By Sarah Beller 05/17/13

Scientists are engineering tobacco plants to produce biofuels that could power airplanes, cars and trucks.

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Future bio-fuel? Photo via

Researchers at UC Berkeley may have come up with a less damaging use for tobacco. In a video (below), Peggy Lemaux, a UC Berkeley researcher in plant and microbial biology, says her team has been looking for alternative fuel sources and "tobacco was to us a perfect one because its not something people eat, and the infrastructure for growing it, harvesting it, producing it was all there." She says that the use of tobacco for cigarettes is decreasing in the United States, and across the world, and tobacco growers are "excited there might be an alternative use to tobacco that might be looked at in a more positive way than using it for cigarettes." Researchers have already developed an extraction method, and envision that tobacco could be used to make airplane fuel, automobile fuel, and diesel fuel. As an additional bonus, diminishing the domestic tobacco supply would likely lead to a rise in cigarettes prices, which is historically linked to reduced smoking rates.

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Sarah Beller is a writer and the Executive Director at Filter. She has written about drug policy with a focus on harm reduction for Substance.comThe Fix and Salon. She has worked as a social worker with formerly incarcerated people in New York for a number of years. Her writing has also appeared in McSweeney’sThe HairpinThe ToastReductressThe Rumpus and other publications. You can find Sarah on Linkedin and Twitter.