For the last several years…
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 and asked him to catch us up on his work.
AH: Please tell us about your work in Agave, and how did you get started in this area?
AVJ:Well, when I started, I was working at the National Confederation of Forestry Producers, a very large organization in Mexico with over a half a million people. Mexico imports a lot of cellulose, and paper and I was looking for a source of cellulose to produce paper in Mexico other than trees. I found Agave and started researching a little bit about this plant, and I found out its got a lot of sugar in its juice, and also in its fibers, fermentable fibers in the – I’m sorry, the fermentable fibers in the sugars are about 50% of the total weight of the dry by mass. So this was very promising, and I started looking at agave as a source for biofuels production. So it was very, very pleasant to find out that Agave’s, the best fix for ethanol production, first and second generation. And I’d like to tell you more about it as the interview follows.
AH:Please tell us about January 2011 Agave Biofuels Oxford University Study in which scientist analysis highlighted promising opportunities for “bioenergy production from Agave’s arid or semi-arid regions with minimum pressure on food production and water resources.”
“…Agave produced more ethanol than sugar cane or corn…“
AVJ:Well this study performed by the Oxford University and the Sydney University. They did a lifecycle assessment, and an energy balance study. And in the lifecycle assessment, they found Agave sequestered more Co2 per hector than sugar cane or corn, and also in the production of ethanol from Agave, there were less green house gasses emitted to the atmosphere than with sugar cane, and corn. And the most important thing was that Agave produced more ethanol than sugar cane or corn. And that was very interesting because there’s a huge opportunity for biofuels, but the main problems is the scalability of the industry because there is not enough feedstock to produce the amount of ethanol that the world needs.
Brazil is importing ethanol from the U.S. They’re having a hard time now with the climate change, and they’re production of sugar is low, so they’re having to import ethanol. So this is a great opportunity. And on the other hand, they also found out that this comparison table they produced, they found out that Agave produced more sugars, more ethanol during the dry season. That was very interesting. The production during the rainy season was very low compared to the dry season. So these plants are very noble. They produce more sugars, more ethanol when the seasons are dry, when they don’t have enough water to produce. It’s very different from the plants that we are used to cultivate for biofuel production.
“…Agave can be used as food, as fodder and as feedstock for biofuels…“
AH: When you and I have spoken in the past, I learned that one of the key advantages to Agave is that it can grow in these water limited environments, and it is advantageous to many developing countries. What more can you tell me about this?
AVJ:Well you know, Agave could be cultivated in 42% of the total land, the total territory of the earth. To put this into perspective, agriculture is carried on only in 30% of the total land. So we could double the size of the productive land in the world if we started cultivating Agave. And Agave produces up to ten times more sugars per hector than sugar cane, ten times. So this is a great opportunity for all these poor countries with a lot of dry lands, which cannot produce their own food. And Agave can be used as food, as fodder and as feedstock for biofuels, bio products or biochemicals production. And they could base their growing economy in Agave sugars. They can produce anything they produce with – well with Agave; we can produce anything you can produce with oil, and more because you also have the fibers, and the sugars. So this is a great, great opportunity.
AH:So how clean does Agave biofuel burn?
AVJ:Well, it can save up to 80% of the greenhouse gases emitted from burning gasoline, and a little more, probably 85% if you produce bio jet fuel. So there’s a great savings of greenhouse gasses from biofuels with Agave.
To be continued…..