What is it?
Agave is a large succulent notable for its tall, spiky flowers and its long narrow leaves. Although there are more than 200 Agave species, the major commercial species is the blue Agave plant, Agave tequilana, used in making the potent distilled liquor, tequila.
Why is it of interest?
It contains less lignin, the “glue” in plants that has to be broken down to extract sugars. It is drought tolerant and also highly efficient in its use of water, allowing it to survive without irrigation between rainfalls. It requires minimal fertilizing.
Where does it grow?
It is native to Mexico, where it is primarily grown; the southwestern U.S.; and in tropical areas of Central and South America. It has been grown for fiber in Africa, and test plots are being grown in Australia.
Why does it matter?
According to bioenergy analyst Sarah Davis, “Biomass from Agave can be harvested as a co-product of tequila production without additional land demands. Also, abandoned Agave plantations in Mexico and Africa that previously supported the natural fiber market could be reclaimed as bioenergy cropland.”
More research on Agave species to determine the tolerance ranges of the highest yielding varieties that would be most viable for bioenergy production in semi-arid regions of the world.
Who is working on it?
The University of Illinois, the Agave Project at the National Confederation of Forestry Producers in Mexico, the University of Oxford in the U.K., and James Cook University and the company, Ausagave, in Australia.