‘Tequila’ powered biofuels more efficient than corn or sugar
In an article published this week in the Journal of Cleaner Production, University of Sydney agronomist Associate Professor Daniel Tan with international and Australian colleagues have analysed the potential to produce bioethanol (biofuel) from the agave plant, a high-sugar succulent widely grown in Mexico to make the alcoholic drink tequila.
The agave plant is now being grown as a biofuel source on the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland by MSF Sugar, and it promises some significant advantages over existing sources of bioethanol such as sugarcane and corn, Associate Professor Tan said.
“Agave is an environmentally friendly crop that we can grow to produce ethanol-based fuels and healthcare products,” said Associate Professor Tan from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture. “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, who led the lifecycle assessment, said: “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.” This study used chemical analyses of agave from a pilot agave farm in Kalamia Estate, Queensland (near Ayr) undertaken by Dr Kendall Corbin for her University of Adelaide PhD, supervised by Professor Rachel Burton. “It is fabulous that the results of my chemical analysis can be used in both an economic and environmental footprint study and have real-world applications”, Dr Corbin said.