Column Date 2006-01-22

First tobacco-powered car unveiled

Winston-Salem, NC (March 31). Scientists at the Tobacco Institute of the Carolinas today unveiled a revolutionary new automobile fuel made from tobacco.

At a private press briefing this morning, a spokesperson said: “Ever since the federal government cracked down on cigarette sales we’ve had a major surplus of leaves. This new fuel solves two problems at once – it will help support hard-pressed tobacco farmers, and, at the same time, it will limit the tobacco crop available for cigarettes, thus reducing smoking in this country.”

The new fuel, dubbed “tobacc-anol” by lab scientists, is made by breaking down the sugars naturally present in the tobacco leaf, much the way ethanol is made from corn.

However, the high nicotine content of tobacco, one scientist explained, serves to naturally “supercharge” the fuel, adding
extra power.

The prototype of the new tobacco-fueled engine was mounted in a compact Chevrolet Cavalier, and displayed at a secret location in a Winston-Salem suburb. Security to enter the test facility was tight, and no cameras or recording devices were permitted.

The 117-horsepower engine ran smoothly on tobacc-anol during a demonstration drive on local streets. It accelerated quickly and this reporter could detect no difference in performance between this engine and a normal one powered by gasoline. It should be noted, however, that the tobacc-anol engine seemed to cough and sputter a bit when it was first started in the early morning.

This new tobacco-based fuel comes in three grades (87, 91 and 94 octane), but no harmful additives are used to get the higher, more powerful octane ratings. Scientists explained that simply using different grades of tobacco leaves, each with varying amounts of nicotine, creates the different octane levels. As a rule of thumb, the more nicotine in the original leaf, the higher the octane.

The engine’s exhaust is still a concern to scientists, hence the tight security.

They admit that initial tests show the exhaust contains high levels of carcinogens, and special filters are being added to the exhaust system to limit their release into the atmosphere.

An oil industry lobbyist, speaking off the record, cautioned that this new fuel could fill our streets with ‘second-hand’ smoke, causing serious medical and environmental problems. “Global warming will be nothing compared to ‘global coughing’ if this catches on,“ he said. Scientists at the Winston-Salem laboratories, on the other hand, were confident that their new technology, using cellulose and cork filters, would solve the problem quickly.

A mechanic at the test site, when asked about reliability, said that tobacc-anol was stable, dependable and also had a much more acceptable scent than gasoline. “It’s very pleasant when you’re filling up,” he said, “reminds me of menthol.”

He added that this new engine performed best if used daily, since their experience shows that letting it sit around idly for several days, without the high nicotine/octane fuel running through it, tended to make it cranky and unhappy. “Of course, that’s just my own subjective opinion,” he said. “We haven’t finished our final performance testing yet.”

The new tobacco-powered car will have its first public viewing tomorrow, April 1.

©2005 Peter Tannen