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That’s the spirit – agave plant outperforms sugar and corn in biofuels study

The plant is more commonly used in the manufacture of tequila
The plant is more commonly used in the manufacture of tequila
The agave plant used to make tequila could be used to make biofuels.
Found in the semi-arid Australia, the plant could become an environmentally friendly solution to Australia's transport fuel shortage as reported in the Journal for Cleaner Production.
A team of researchers at the University of Sydney, University of Exeter and University of Adelaide have been carrying out research into the plant. The plant could also help produce ethanol for hand sanitiser, which is in high demand following the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an article published, University of Sydney agronomist Associate Professor Daniel Tan with colleagues have analysed the potential to produce bioethanol (biofuel) from the agave plant, a high-sugar succulent widely grown in Mexico.
The agave plant is now being grown as a biofuel source on the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland by MSF Sugar and it is showing some significant advantages over existing sources of bioethanol such as sugarcane and corn, according to the professor.
"Agave is an environmentally friendly crop that we can grow to produce ethanol-based fuels and healthcare products," said Associate Professor Tan.
“It can grow in semi-arid areas without irrigation; and it does not compete with food crops or put demands on limited water and fertiliser supplies. Agave is heat and drought tolerant and can survive Australia's hot summers."
Associate Professor Tan assembled the research team and led its economic analysis.
Lead author Dr Xiaoyu Yan, from the University of Exeter, added: “Our analysis highlights the possibilities for bioethanol production from agave grown in semi-arid Australia, causing minimum pressure on food production and water resources.
“The results suggest that bioethanol derived from agave is superior to that from corn and sugarcane in terms of water consumption and quality, greenhouse gas emissions, as well as ethanol output.”
The study found that sugarcane yields 9,900 litres a hectare each year. However, agave outperforms sugarcane on a range of measures, including freshwater eutrophication, marine ecotoxicity and – crucially – water consumption.
Agave uses 69% less water than sugarcane and 46% less water than corn for the same yield. For US corn ethanol, the yield was lower than agave, at 3800 litres a hectare a year.
"This shows agave is an economic and environmental winner for biofuel production in the years to come," Associate Professor Tan concluded.
The plant is more commonly used in the manufacture of tequila