From Addiction to … Aviation? Tobacco, an Unexpected Fuel for the Future

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这篇文章由Emily Xing撰写,16岁,来自马里兰州埃利科特市的百年高中。,是学习网络第三年度STEM写作比赛的前八名获奖者之一,我们收到了3,564份参赛作品。

July 15, 2016. The world held its breath as a revolutionary airplane blazed overhead, leaving a silver trail across the sky. Forever changing countless industries, this flight was powered not by conventional fossil fuels, but rather by the world’s leading cause of preventable death: tobacco.

Today’s society faces a devastating smoking epidemic. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco products kill over eight million people annually — more than malaria, influenza, tuberculosis, AIDS and alcohol combined.

Unfortunately, millions of workers also depend on this deadly plant to support their families. A study by researchers at McGill University highlights why these farmers hesitate to switch to alternative crops: Tobacco has always had a readily available market, and its lands are typically unsuitable for any other plant. Completely eliminating tobacco therefore may not be the most feasible solution. So what if we repurposed it for healthy innovations, such as a sustainable fuel for the future, instead?

In 2014, South African Airways, Boeing and SkyNRG launched Project Solaris. The goal? To cultivate tobacco that can send airplanes into the sky.

Aviation is projected to account for over 22 percent of global carbon emissions by 2050, which makes finding eco-friendly energy sources an industry priority. Solaris, a special nicotine-free tobacco strain with maximized seed yield, is one promising solution. Scientists are refining the oil within these seeds to craft bioenergy that, compared to conventional fossil fuels, reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 83 percent!

On July 15, 2016, South African Airways flew its very first tobacco-powered flight. Six thousand three hundred liters of Solaris bioenergy carried the airplane from Johannesburg to Cape Town — a journey that, as Ian Cruickshank, the airline’s environmental affairs specialist, said, “shows the industry is really changing. Four or five years ago biofuel was seen as futuristic, and today it’s here.”

Unlike tobacco, growing common crops like corn for bioenergy generates many problems, from hurting global food security to disturbing local wildlife. But by repurposing the 10.5 million acres of already-existing tobacco farmlands, Solaris cultivation perfectly overcomes these challenges, all while producing more oil!

This creative endeavor has inspired people to see tobacco as “a viable source of energy for the future,” in the words of Robert Mills. The Virginian farmer now dedicates a portion of his land to grow biofuel tobacco every year in partnership with Tyton BioEnergy Systems, an eco-friendly power company.

Besides biofuel, research has found that tobacco has countless other applications, including deterring troublesome pests, serving as paper, and even yielding promising drugs for AIDS and cancer. These innovations take the first steps in providing society with alternative, beneficial uses for the plant, proving its boundless potential outside of smoking.

Just like Tyton’s president Peter Majeranowski said, slowly, but surely, we are “re-imagin[ing] tobacco’s place in the world.” The shift in this crop’s uses — from addiction to aviation and beyond — teaches us that even the most harmful substances can be repurposed for the better. All it takes is a little creativity for change to take off.

Works Cited

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