A desert plant, best known for producing tequila in Mexico, shows promise as a source of biofuel and other biochemical products, according to University of Adelaide research.
The researchers at the Australian Research Council Center of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls showed the agave plant could produce up to 15,000 liters per hectare a year of biofuel ̶ and it grows on marginal land under low rainfall conditions.
Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the research outlined agave leaf composition and fermentation efficiencies that could produce competitive biofuels from this fast-growing, highly water use efficient plant.
“Bioethanol yields from agave fermentation could rival the most successful biofuel feedstock crops around the world,” says Associate Professor Rachel Burton, Node Leader with the ARC Center in the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine. “Importantly, it doesn’t compete with food crops, it’s fast growing so the whole plant could be used rather than just harvesting the leaves, and it is up to 10 times more water efficient than some other crop plants.”
The researchers modeled ethanol yields from analysis of whole plants, waste leaves from existing agave industries and agave juice. Whole plants were predicted to yield between 4000 and 15,000 liters of ethanol per hectare per year.
Further research is in progress to establish the best cultivation methods for bioethanol production, for example planting densities and mechanisation to maximise yield, and optimisation of fermentation.