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ODU Engineer Working to Convert Tobacco Plants into Biofuels
August 13, 2013

ODU assistant professor Sandeep Kumar. Image courtesy of Old Dominion University.
An Old Dominion University 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.

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.

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.

The company reached out to Kumar because of his research in developing subcritical water-based processes for converting biomass to biofuels. His work focuses on using water as reactant and reaction medium for conduction in chemical reactions, resulting in almost 100 percent utilization of biomass components in the form of biofuels and useful byproducts. The processes, an efficient use of the raw material, leave behind no other waste product.

Before earning a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Auburn University, Kumar worked as a chemical engineer in India for 12 years. His passion is to use everyday products and processes to help with the world’s energy issues.

Tyton BioSciences, which received a grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, has awarded $61,000 to support Kumar’s research work on tobacco biomass conversion.

This article reprinted from materials provided by Old Dominion University.

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