Oil from Tobacco Leaves

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Berkeley, California
Project Term:
01/01/2012 - 03/26/2015

Technology Description:

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is modifying tobacco to enable it to directly produce fuel molecules in its leaves for use as a biofuel. Tobacco is a good crop for biofuels production because it is an outstanding biomass crop, has a long history of cultivation, does not compete with the national food supply, and is highly responsive to genetic manipulation. LBNL will incorporate traits for hydrocarbon biosynthesis from cyanobacteria and algae, and enhance light utilization and carbon uptake in tobacco, improving the efficiency of photosynthesis so more fuel can be produced in the leaves. The tobacco-generated biofuels can be processed for gasoline, jet fuel, or diesel alternatives. LBNL is also working to optimize methods for planting, cultivating and harvesting tobacco to increase biomass production several-fold over the level of traditional growing techniques.

Potential Impact:

If successful, LBNL's project would genetically engineer tobacco to enable it to produce oil directly from its leaves. This could enable large scale production of oils, which could eventually begin to replace 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. Jonathan Burbaum
Project Contact:
Dr. Christer Jansson
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center
University of California, Berkeley

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