A new report from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford has identified significant advantages of using agave plants to derive biofuels.
Unlike other biofuel feedstocks, agave reportedly has the potential to grow on marginal agricultural land and so would have limited impact on global food production and biodiversity.
According to a statement, agaves are found to have many favourable characteristics such as high productivities, sugar content and an ability to grow in naturally water-limited environments.
The report, entitled Life-cycle energy and greenhouse-gas analysis for agave-derived bioethanol, presents the first comprehensive life-cycle analysis of the energy and greenhouse-gas (GHG) balance for agave-derived ethanol.
Large-scale biofuel production, particularly in the US, has been criticised in view of mounting concerns over its associated pressure and impact on food production in already volatile global markets.
It is claimed that increasing biofuel production adversely affects water quality through excessive fertiliser use and driving undesired land-use change such as deforestation.
Ethanol derived from cellulosic feedstocks is likely to overcome some of these drawbacks in the future, but the production technology is yet to be fully commercialised. Sugarcane ethanol is the most efficient option in the short term, but its success in Brazil is difficult to replicate elsewhere.
‘The characteristics of the agave — high water-use efficiency, tolerance of high temperatures and high content of soluble sugars — make it well suited to bio-energy production, but also reveal its potential as a crop that is adaptable to future global warming and climate change,’ said Andrew Smith, professor of plant sciences at Oxford University. ‘In a world where arable land and water resources are increasingly scarce, these are key attributes in the food-versus-fuel argument, which is likely to intensify given the expected large-scale growth in biofuel production.’