Finally a use for tobacco that is good for the environment

Not all research into alternative energy for vehicles centers on batteries or solar power. A lot of research time and money around the world is being allotted to finding new, cheaper, and cleaner fuels that can power internal combustion engines like hydrogen and ethanol.

Ethanol is typically thought of as a fuel made from corn, but other plant matter can also be turned into ethanol. The USDA issued findings in August of 2009 that watermelons that would normally be thrown away could be used to produce biofuels. There are already a number of vehicles on the road that can burn E85 ethanol and as production costs come down, it makes the price per gallon cheaper for consumers. Cellulosic Ethanol from POET is targeting a price of $2.35 per gallon.

Scientists are also pursuing new methods of creating ethanol from other types of plant materials. Professor Henry Daniell from the University of Central Florida has made a groundbreaking discovery in the production of ethanol from waste products like orange peels and newspapers. According to Daniell, his technique is cheaper and greener than methods currently used to create ethanol today.

The breakthrough isn't limited to fruit peels and newspaper though, Daniell says that the process can also be applied to other non-food products being used for biofuel production like sugarcane, switchgrass, and straw.

Daniell said, "This could be a turning point where vehicles could use this fuel as the norm for protecting our air and environment for future generations."

The technique was developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and uses a plant derived enzyme cocktail to break down orange peels and other waste products into sugar, which is then fermented into ethanol. Current processes for making ethanol include using cornstarch that is fermented into fuel, but the ethanol produced with this method produces more emissions than normal gasoline.

The method Daniell has discovered produces much less emissions than gas or electricity. One major point with the method Daniell has discovered is that the process can be used on many waste products to produce ethanol without affecting the world's food supply. Discarded orange peels in Florida alone can produce as much as 200 million gallons of ethanol each year.

Daniell and his team used techniques to clone genes from fungi and bacteria that cause wood to rot and produced the needed enzymes in tobacco plants. By producing the enzymes in tobacco plants, the process of creating the enzyme is much cheaper than producing the enzymes synthetically. The enzyme cocktail has more than ten enzymes that are required to turn the biomass into sugar.

"Dr. Henry Daniell's team's success in producing a combination of several cell wall degrading enzymes in plants using chloroplast transgenesis is a great achievement," said Mariam Sticklen, a professor of crop and soil sciences at Michigan State University.

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