Yes, you read the title correctly. Ethanol from agave plants has the potential to be used for powering vehicles. Normally it powers the lowering of inhibitions and silly behavior, not to mention some wicked hangovers, but researchers are also exploring the possibility of using ethanol from agave plants in deserts, because burning it in combustion engines produces less emissions than gasoline. (Another type of liquor, whiskey, will some day be used as a biofuel in Scotland to fuel passenger vehicles.)
One of the main issues with the production of biofuels is the use, or really misuse of croplands. Growing crops to create biofuels is not sensible because the energy required for their growing and harvesting is greater than the energy generated by them. Another issue is using cropland that could be used for growing food, for biofuel production. In the case of agave use for ethanol production, apparently there are already abandoned agave plantations available in Africa and Mexico that might be useful, and would not mean a reduction in the production of tequila. In Mexico, plant waste that remains after the agave has been used for tequila production could be used to make ethanol, “Agave is a potential candidate as a bioenergy feedstock because it does not compete for land with the production of commodities and it is widely distributed in Mexico. Waste remaining in the fields after harvest, and created during tequila and mescal production, can potentially provide thousands of tons of bioenergy feedstock per year for bioenergy production,” said E. Garcia-Moya, Professor of Botany at the Colegio de Postgraduados en Ciencias Agricolas in Texcoco, Mexico. (Source: Sciencedaily.com)
It obviously would not be a global energy solution, but a local or regional one. Local energy production if viable, can help stimulate economies because they become less dependent on purchasing oil from outside their own communities, and therefore get to keep their own money. Consider the fact Kenya pays about twenty to twenty five percent of its total import costs just for petroleum. Even if they could replace half of their petroleum usage with ethanol from agave, they would save millions of dollars every year, and this money could be reinvested in their own energy and transportation infrastructure. It was reported in March that high oil prices worldwide could add $700 million dollars to Kenya’s oil importing costs.
Image Credit: Marc Ryckaert