Fuel from Tobacco and Arundo Donax

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College Station, Texas
Project Term:
02/15/2012 - 03/06/2017

Technology Description:

Texas A&M Agrilife Research is addressing one of the major inefficiencies in photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy. Texas A&M Agrilife Research is targeting the most wasteful step in photosynthesis by redirecting a waste byproduct into a new pathway that will create terpenes—energy-dense fuel molecules that can be converted into jet or diesel fuel. This strategy will be first applied to tobacco to demonstrate more efficient terpene production in the leaf. If successful in tobacco, the approach will be translated into the high biomass plant Arundo donax (giant cane) for fuel production.

Potential Impact:

If successful, Texas A&M Agrilife Research's project will improve the efficiency of photosynthesis, enabling plants to convert more sunlight into fuel. Cost-competitive, renewable biofuels could serve as a replacement for petroleum-based fuels.


The transportation sector accounts for nearly all of our petroleum imports. Providing an advanced biofuels alternative to petroleum will allow the U.S. to reduce these imports, improving our energy independence.


More than 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from the transportation sector. Because plants naturally absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, the level of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels is less than half that of petroleum fuels.


The U.S. imports nearly $1 billion in petroleum each day, accounting for the single largest factor in our trade balance with the rest of the world. Biofuels can be produced domestically, allowing us to keep more dollars at home.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Joe Cornelius
Project Contact:
Dr. Joshua Yuan
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