Tequila plant could fuel vehicles and help reduce emissions

Jul 29, 2011
The first trial of the agave plant in Australia at Kalamia Estate, Queensland in July 2009. Credit: Don Chambers

In an article published today in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, plant physiologist Dr Daniel Tan and his University of Oxford collaborators 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 has not yet been widely cultivated as a , but it promises some significant advantages over existing sources of ethanol such as and corn, Dr. Tan and his Oxford colleagues argue.

"The agave plant is probably one of the most promising crops we can grow to produce ethanol-based fuels," said Dr. Tan, a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. "It can grow in arid areas without irrigation; it doesn't compete with or put demands on limited water supplies."

A pilot agave farm to produce ethanol has been established in Kalamia Estate, Queensland (near Ayr) but more work needs to be done. "Further research is obviously needed to improve the understanding of the agave plants and to develop the technology involved," the paper notes.

Dr. Tan and his co-authors - including Sir David King, a former chief scientific advisor to the UK Government - analysed the production of ethanol from the agave plant in a hypothetical farm and production facility and found it had a number of other benefits.

"Ethanol derived from agave has a positive - the energy created is five times that required to produce it. This compares favourably to the highly efficient sugarcane, and to the less efficient corn as a source of ," Dr. Tan said.

"It also compares favourably to sugarcane-derived ethanol for its ability to offset , which we calculated at 7.5 tons of CO2e per hectare per year - taking into account the crop's complete lifecycle, from planting and harvesting to production and processing."

Xiaoyu Yan, lead author and postdoctoral researcher at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford said:

"Our analysis highlights the promising opportunities for bioenergy production from agaves in arid or semi-arid regions, causing minimum pressure on food production and water resources. The results suggest that ethanol derived from agave is likely to be superior, or at least comparable, to that from corn, switchgrass and sugarcane in terms of energy and GHG balances (net GHG offset per unit land area), as well as ethanol output."

An agave production facility would also be self-fuelling, with the plant's woody by-products (bagasse and residue) fuelling the production facility's energy requirements, says Dr. Tan.

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More information: pubs.rsc.org/en/journals/journalissues/ee

Provided by University of Sydney

3.1 /5 (7 votes)

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User comments : 7

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lengould100
5 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2011
Give it up and buy some parabolic troughs and a syngas plant if liquid fuels are your goal. About 300x more efficient per unit land used, requires far less water and scarce fertilizer inputs, no pesticides......
Scottingham
not rated yet Jul 29, 2011
It only takes several years before the pina/heart can be harvested!
Donutz
5 / 5 (2) Jul 29, 2011
Screw this! Engineer the plant to produce tequila directly. THEN you'll have something!
Yellowdart
1 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2011
"It can grow in arid areas without irrigation; it doesn't compete with food crops or put demands on limited water supplies."


Yeah but think of all the alcoholics that are gonna be ticked when those tequila prices go up...
Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2011
"It can grow in arid areas without irrigation; it doesn't compete with food crops or put demands on limited water supplies."


Yeah but think of all the alcoholics that are gonna be ticked when those tequila prices go up...


If it's grown on land that wasn't used for agave before it shouldn't affect the price.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2011
Use the ethanol as a chemical starting point for synthesizing substances that would otherwise need petrochemicals and need to be produced close to a refinery and shipped out to users, saving money and energy.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (1) Jul 29, 2011
Ethanol can now be converted into ethene for polyethene quite nicely. You can also ferment sugar into butanol without huge changes in physical equipment. New catalysts and processes are opening up many opportunities to replace top down petrochemical products with bottom up synthesis.