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Folium - Biofuels from Tobacco

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

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Technology Marketing Summary

FOLIUM is a research project aimed at producing high-density liquid fuels in the green biomass of tobacco. By introducing genetic material from microorganisms and other plants, tobacco can synthesize hydrocarbon fuels in its leaves and stems. Also, tobacco can be engineered to increase efficiency of CO2 uptake and solar energy capture. Coupled with improvements in agricultural practices, these approaches will increase the yield of fuel production in tobacco.  


FOLIUM is an innovative technology created by LBNL scientists in conjunction with the University of California, Berkeley, the Kentucky Tobacco Research and Development Center at the University of Kentucky, and the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, that genetically engineers tobacco plants to act as biological factories to produce hydrocarbons, chemicals that can be used as substitutes for crude oil. LBNL scientists’ patented gene modifications that allow tobacco plants to generate alkanes and terpenes (the foundations of petroleum) in the tobacco leaves provide the ability to create advanced biofuels with lower carbon intensity than gasoline and first-generation biofuels.

This technology has the potential to overcome the three key challenges of second-generation biofuels due to a mix of advantages provided by the plant itself, the gene modifications, and the co-products extracted.


·      The Plant: Tobacco has three key advantages that contribute to FOLIUM’s success:

o   High leaf-to-stem ratio: Since the oil is accumulated in the leaves, the plant is a great “container” for the oil, allowing a large amount of oil to be generated per plant. This innovation gives FOLIUM a scaling advantage over other oil-based biofuel feedstocks, such as soy, which accumulate oil in seeds.

o   Infrastructure in place: Tobacco is an established crop in the U.S. farm industry. The tobacco market has declined in the past decade, and there is available land capacity and willingness from farmers to grow the FOLIUM crop.

o   Decoupled from the food chain: Tobacco prices are not connected to the food chain, reducing price volatility and therefore risk.


·      The Gene Modifications: The gene modifications have two key results:

o   More Biomass: By focusing growing efforts on maximizing size and density, rather than the typical tobacco priority of maximizing leaf quality, FOLIUM farmers can place tobacco plants much closer together, producing higher oil yield per acre. One of the goals of FOLIUM production is to produce five times as much biomass per hectare as normal tobacco, while using only 20 percent more fertilizer. Increasing the biomass does not only increase the oil yield but also the production of other valuable co-products.

o   Drop-in fuel: The outputs of the process are alkanes and terpenes that can be directly mixed with conventional fuels at the refinery to produce traditional end products. Unlike ethanol-based biofuels, no additional steps are required between extracting from the plant and mixing at the refinery. This leads to a large reduction of OPEX and CAPEX.


·      The Co-Products: With the increased biomass that FOLIUM produces, come increased levels of co-products. Tobacco naturally produces solanesol, low lignin cellulosic biomass, proteins, and other potentially valuable products. Although the markets for nicotine and proteins from FOLIUM are not attractive, solanesol and cellulose can play a key role in helping FOLIUM build scale. In particular:

o   Solanesol: A key element required to produce coenzyme Q10 (an energy drink ingredient) and vitamin K2 (a coagulant and important vitamin for prevention of osteoporosis) is sold for $300 to $1000/kg.

o   Cellulose: A classic commodity used for several market applications including bioplastic, paper, farm feed, and other applications. Given the massive amount of biomass produced and the fact that an extraction process that can isolate each commodity will already be in place for fuel extraction, the cellulose from FOLIUM tobacco can be sold at its market value. Cellulose commodity prices are $600 to $1000/ton.

Applications and Industries

Oil & Chemical industries

Drop-in biofuels



Co-enzyme Q10

More Information

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Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated
ARPA-E awardDevelopmentAvailable12/20/201312/20/2013

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To: Andrea Schoeller<>