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A new study by University of Sydney and England's Oxford University researchers is investigating the possibility that the agave plant could be farmed as a fuel source in the Australian outback.
The agave plant is best known as a Mexican plant used to distil tequila and mescal.
University of Sydney senior lecturer in agronomy Daniel Tan said, ''You get up to five times more energy out of the plant than you put in. A lot of the biofuel crops in the US also generate land-use change, so sometimes they are releasing more C02 than they are sequestering. 'In terms of producing ethanol, agave is about the same as sugar cane - but the advantage over sugar cane is they survive in very dry areas on little water,'' The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 29 July.
Tan added, "The agave plant is probably one of the most promising crops we can grow to produce ethanol-based fuels. It can grow in arid areas without irrigation; it doesn't compete with food crops or put demands on limited water supplies."
The article in the journal Energy and Environmental Science noted, ''the results suggest ethanol derived from agave is likely to be superior, or at least comparable, to that from corn, switchgrass and sugar cane in terms of energy and (greenhouse gas) balances, as well as in ethanol output and net (greenhouse gas) offset per unit land area.''
A November 2010 Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation report concluded that growing agave plants in Australia's harsh drought-ridden environment was probably commercially viable, with production costs and profits being similar to those of the country’s sugarcane industry.
By. Joao Peixe, Deputy Editor OilPrice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com