Interview with CEO of The Agave Project: Part 2
Arturo Velez Jimenez, CEO of The Agave Project has been working on biofuel, bioenergy, and the bio products that are delivered from Agave, the plant better known for its use in the production of Tequila. We recently welcomed Arturo back to About Harvest.
AH:What are the qualities of the Agave plant that bring such promising potential as a biofuel and bioenergy?
AVJ:Well, the main importance is that they grow in dry lands, on dry lands, you know. They don’t need watering, they don’t need fertilizing or pesticides; all these chemicals that are usually put into the ground. Agave doesn’t need it. These numbers I’m giving you are from wild Agave species under natural conditions. So if we start irrigating and fertilizing this Agave, we could easily double these numbers and make a great business. So this is a great opportunity to lower the price of ethanol and mass, produce it massively all around the world. And the other important thing is that Agave is packed with sugars, ten times more sugars than sugar cane in the juice, and also the cellulose content of the fibers is one of the highest. Only a couple of feedstocks are above Agave. You know, the Agave – all of the Agave species – produce more cellulose per hector than trees, than let’s say eucalyptus, you know fast grown eucalyptus. So Agave is very, very productive in terms of sugar in the juice, and in the fibers. And this is very important because you can develop two businesses at the same time.
AH:Why are you intercropping the Agave with the Prickly Pear plant?
AVJ:Well mainly because investors want to get a profit as soon as possible. And with Agave, we have to wait at least three years, and Opuntia brings in the opportunity to getting some profit from year one. Opuntia produces a lot of biomass. People in Chile are talking; they are getting 1,800 tons of green biomass per hector per year. In Mexico we have only got 600 tons, but if we can rise that to 1,000 tons per hector per year, we could produce that to generate electricity via bio digester, and the cost of producing, generating electricity would be around $0.07 per kilowatt hour which is comparable to the price of electricity generated burning coal, fossil coal. So this is very important because over 5 billion tons of coal are burned every year, and we finally have a substitute that competes in the economics. And also the bio digester path is recognized by the UN as a clean developing mechanism technology.
“…they could easily produce half of the ethanol that is needed in the US….“
AH: Will you tell me about what your current collaborations are?
AVJ:Okay, I am mainly interested in working in the US and China because those are the huge markets, those are the huge polluters. And recently I had a trial in china, but with not very good response. And but in the US I’ve been trying to form an NGO which will be called the Agave Border Coalition which will be producing Agave, and converting it into biofuels and bio products. Recently, I was contacted by the – well this initiative has been very well received in southern USA,and also in northern Mexico. But recently I got an invitation from the northern group to go and tell them about these opportunities of Agave, and Opuntia, and they were very interested in hearing about this Agave Border Coalition. Southwest USA produces less than 1% of the total biomass of the US; I’m talking California, Arizona, New Mexico, even Texas. They produce very little biomass. They have a lot of sun, they have a lot of wind on California coasts so they can produce, they can generate electricity from renewable sources, but they don’t have the biomass to produce liquid biofuels, or soluble biofuels. And agave is a great opportunity for them. They have a lot of land, and they could easily produce this southwestern states, they could easily produce half of the ethanol that is needed in the US. So they are willing to bring in to develop this project, and it’s very probable that I will be moving to the US to develop this project there.
AVJ:Well, you know, I’m also working with the government in Mexico City to develop this project here. We have a lot of Opuntia in Mexico City, you know, it’s the main producer in Mexico. And every year around 400,000 tons of Opuntia are wasted so we are trying to develop this project to generate electricity from Opuntia via bio digester. And the man, the scientist who will be in charge of this in the government, well he was the president of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, and also president of the Cinvestav, which is the highest ranking level of scientist association in Mexico, and he is very interested in Agave as a feedstock, and we will develop some research, and development to take this to the industrial level. So those two are my main concerns now, working into the US, and developing this product in Mexico City.
AH:Arturo, before I let you go, is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that you might want to share with us?
AVJ:Well, I don’t know, there’s a lot – we are just – we have just started a new facility to produce inulin. Inulin is a sugar, a natural sugar that contains a lot of fiber. It’s considered a functional food. So its got a huge market, and we contacted Wal-Mart, and they are wiling to pay $2.50 per kilo of inulin, and our cost of production is around $1.00 per kilo. So this is great business. We are very, very interested in developing this inulin project worldwide because these sugars are very good for human’s health, and makes some money in order to be able to invest that money in our biofuels project. So that’s about the path that we are following now.
“Finally, there are investors interested, the technology is ready.“
AH:Arturo, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, and we will obviously continue to follow your story with great interest. We wish you much continued success with this important work.
AVJ:Well thank you very much Nancy. You know, I’m very, very pleased that now I’m moving forward very fast, and the path is very clear. Finally, there are investors interested, the technology is ready. I have been in contact with Mascoma, and Gevo for several years, and as soon as we can produce the glucose they need, we will try to develop some joint venture with them, and bring this technology to the world. You know, especially to the poor tropical regions of the world.