Just when helping farmers grow tobacco had become a lower priority than other crop production, new bioenergy uses for tobacco could make crop consultants and ag retailer agronomy representatives refocus on helping farmers economically grow tobacco.

The reduced use of tobacco in smoking and chewing products has meant a huge reduction in tobacco acreage in the U.S., but the use of tobacco for other uses and its different components might increase shortly.

A Danville, Va., based company, Tyton BioEnergy Systems, has announced that tobacco is a great source for producing sugary syrup, oil, proteins and biochar. The company has been breeding tobacco for the purpose of bioenergy production, which includes tobacco plants with specific traits that grow as tall as 15-feet and can be cut down and quickly regrow in the same growing season for a second harvest.

A report by Denice Thibodeau in the Danville Register & Bee newspaper, quoted Connor Hartman, chief operating officer and vice president of business development for Tyton BioEnergy Systems, as saying that an acre of this overgrown tobacco raised for sugar output can produce three times more sugar than an acre of corn, which makes it a better ethanol source than corn.

With the plant’s capability to produce volume and specific outputs, the Virginia company’s scientists have developed a system for producing jet fuel in addition to conventional ethanol for gasoline blends. A pilot program for the jet fuel is underway, and the company is looking for a partnership to commercialize jet fuel production.

The processing of tobacco for ethanol production also appears to have potential wherever tobacco has been grown and could be grown. It is known that tobacco doesn’t need the best of soils to grow, and crop consultants and agronomists could be called upon to assist farmers in producing the biggest tobacco crop possible with specific traits for bioenergy. The outlook is positive for the long term, but such ventures have to be based on profit potential, which is at a low during the current downturn in crude oil prices.