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ODU Engineer Developing Process to Convert Tobacco to Biofuels

An Old Dominion engineer has been hired by a Virginia-based company to help convert tobacco biomass to advanced biofuels and bioproducts.

Sandeep Kumar, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been at ODU since 2010, conducting research in the area of biofuels production from nonfood-based biomass feedstock.

"We're trying to replace petroleum as much as possible, reduce greenhouse gases and make fuels that can be produced locally," Kumar said.

It makes sense that biofuels research in Virginia - part of the "tobacco belt" - would include looking at alternative uses of the tobacco plant, including biofuels. Tyton BioSciences, based near Danville, is one of several Virginia companies exploring new uses for tobacco as the smoking rate declines nationwide.

Tobacco produces a plethora of valuable proteins and chemicals that can be used for a variety of purposes besides carcinogen-producing smoking products - from animal feed, to the pharmaceutical industry, to biofuels.

ODU and Tyton BioSciences have jointly filed two patent applications in the past year around a chemical-free process of turning the tobacco plant into biofuel - one patent involves removing the sugars from the tobacco biomass to create a fuel source, and the second is to process tobacco seeds themselves to extract an oil product and other fuel products.

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Published on: August 1, 2013