Tequila plant agave seems excellent source of biofuel

AgaveThe food versus fuel debate has put large-scale biofuel production in a squeeze in recent years, but competition with food crops is just one drawback for which biofuel crop production is criticised.

So far each biofuel crop has shown to have its own advantages and disadvantages. However new research now shows that agave, the main ingredient for tequila, may be the crop that takes all the positives of biofuel crops and puts them into one neat package.


Currently the most predominantly used biofuel is ethanol, which is mostly made from food crops like corn, sugar cane and potatoes. Besides putting pressure on global food markets, the problems most commonly associated with these bioethanol sources are their impact on water resources and driving undesired land-use changes such as deforestation.


Agave already appeared to be an interesting bioethanol source due to its high sugar content and its swift growth. For the first time Researchers at the universities of Oxford and Sydney have now conducted the first life-cycle analysis of the energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of agave-derived ethanol and present their promising results in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Energy and greenhous gasOn both life cycle energy and GHG emissions agave scores at least as well as corn, switchgrass and sugarcane, while reaching a similar ethanol output. The big advantages agave has over the before mentioned plants is that it can grow in dry areas and on poor soil, thus practically eliminating their competition with food crops and drastically decreasing their pressure on water resources.

Replacing gasoline

This doesn‘t however remove the fact that ethanol’s qualities make it difficult for it to readily replace gasoline. It is now mostly used just as an additive to gasoline, while full ethanol engines are slowly being phased out.

Luckily a recent discovery has made it possible to easily convert bioethanol into isobutene making the application possibilities of sustainably produced bioethanol much broader.

The new findings do however raise a new question: What will tequila lovers say? Will this be the start of the tequila versus fuel debate?

© Jorn van Dooren | www.bitsofscience.org

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