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Agave Shows High Potential for New Biofuel Crop

Many of us enjoy agave in the form of tequila or agave nectar, a vegan sugar substitute. Or perhaps you’ve planted agave as an ornamental plant in your garden.

But new research shows that this succulent plant might serve an even more important purpose as a biofuel crop.

Biofuel, also known as bioenergy, is renewable energy that comes from biological sources such as plants and organic wastes.

Advocates of biofuel say that switching from fossil fuel to biofuel could improve the environment, help local economies, and reduce dependence on foreign oil. But skeptics of biofuel point out that increased production of bioenergy crops could increase greenhouse gas emissions by destroying natural ecosystems and displacing production of food crops.

In the new study, scientists found that the energy yields of two Agave species greatly exceeded that of more common biofuels such as corn and soy. The researchers noted that there are even more productive species of agave that have yet to be tested.

Unlike other crops, increasing agave production to meet the demand for renewable fuel has a low risk of unintended environmental change. Because biomass from agave can be harvested as a co-product of tequila production, agave could be grown as a biofuel without additional land demands.

As a plant that thrives in semi-arid habitats, agave also has the potential to maintain high energy yields in the face of increased droughts and water conflicts due to climate change.

Image courtesy of edgeplot via a Creative Commons license.

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