Danville, VA - A company in Danville is using a signature Virginia crop to change what we put in our gas tanks.
Tyton Biosciences is working to turn tobacco into fuel.
By modifying tobacco, the biologists at Tyton have found ways to boost the crop's sugar and oil levels to make it an ideal crop for ethanol and diesel production.
They hope this science will do for Virginia what corn has done for the Midwest.
Tyton Biosciences has only been in Virginia for two years, but the tobacco they use has been a part of the commonwealth's heritage for centuries.
"It grows in 100 countries, it's easy to grow when you grow it for mass not necessarily for flavor, and it's very easy to modify, " said Tyton President Peter Majeranowski.
Majeranowski says those qualities make tobacco the perfect alternative to corn for making ethanol and biodiesel.
At their lab in Danville, the biologists are in the process of putting their research to the test.
"This particular laboratory is actually our heart if you wish, " said Vice-President Igor Kostenyuk.
Tyton uses their facilities to test tobacco plants, seeds and the oil extracted from them.
They are in the process of building a greenhouse to continue exploring ways to alter the per-acre density level at which tobacco can be planted.
"We implement the cutting edge molecular biology and genetic engineering techniques to improve and actually create our tobacco varieties, " Kostenyuk said.
Majeranowski says they hope to be working in a commercial market in the next two to three years.
Their goal is to work with the energy industry to get the product from their labs to customers around the world, and Tyton is glad to be surrounded by such vast knowledge of the golden leaf.
"There's so much tobacco know-how here, there's so much history that we can't find in textbooks or literature. Just working with local farmers, it's been fantastic for us and we look forward to being a part of this community, " said Majeranowski.
Tyton officials say using tobacco will be more cost effective than the corn and soy crops currently used for fuel, and they hope this science will help the United States become less dependent on foreign countries for its fuel needs.