Spirited BioFuel: Getting Tanked With Tequila

agave plants photo

Remember the Australian farmers who are growing their own oil with the Brazilian diesel trees? Now comes the story of another enterprising Aussie, who is also seeking his fuel salvation, via a different South American plant. This time it is the succulent from which Tequila is derived - Agave.

Matthew observed in post last year that Mexico were also on the case, because agave is high in sugar and doesn’t compete with food crop in the same way that corn-based ethanol does. Australia, which already uses molasses, a by-product of sugar cane production for a chunk of its ethanol supply, is considered to be an ideal climate for a new agave biofuel industry. Ausagave apparently has 10,000 agave plants ready for a trial.Good Yields for Bad Land
Don Chambers, entrepreneur behind the South Australian based Ausagave company has been doing his homework on agave for the past four years. Whereas he reckons sugar cane averages a yield of 9,500L per hectare per annum, he is confident that agave’s yields are more like 10,000 to 16,000 litres of ethanol per hectare per annum.

And being a succulent, agave is tough enough to survive temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius (122°F), which given Australia’s rising thermometer will be a good thing indeed.

"It can grow basically in the desert," he said. "We've been doing trials here in South Australia, and it doesn't die without water, it can withstand extremes of temperature, it wouldn't be as subject to storms like some of the crops like cane are. If you compare it with [sugar] cane and corn, it does have less operational costs and it can grow in very marginal land."

More Research Needed
Professor Nanjappa Ashwath of Central Queensland University is also an advocate of agave ethanol. He believes it will grow well in hot, dry areas without need of extensive irrigation. He recently visited successful agave crops in India, and reckons it is well suited to much of Australia’s denuded mining lands. But much works still needs to be undertaken to make it viable. There is much still to learn he said:

"What type of agave can we use and what are the cultivation practices? How do we harvest and what kind of plant, who's going to provide the raw materials to the industry?"

Ethanol at Australian Petrol Pumps
Australian drivers already have the option of choosing 10% ethanol fuel (E10), which is government supported through a variety of measures, including being exempt from the fuel excise tax.

Interestingly, in a trial undertaken by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Motoring section, Drive, they found no real benefit in ethanol E10, either in cost, performance, or overall greenhouse gas reduction.

But General Motors Australian subsiduary, Holden (as beseiged here as the parent compant is at home), may up the ante, if its E85 ethanol cars become available by 2010, as promised. At this stage Holden appear to be in negotiation with other start-up biofuel companies to supply the 85% ethanol blend. If that doesn’t come to pass, maybe they’ll be looking to bung some tequila in the tank instead.

ABC Online

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Photo credit: Reuters on ABC

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