Biofuel feedstock alternative: Blue Agave Bagasse?

The Blue Agave is a type of agave native of Jalisco, Mexico. It is used to produce Tequila, which is a type of Mezcal. According to Mexico’s law [1], Mezcal can be defined as an “Alcoholic beverage obtained from the distillation and rectification of juices, prepared directly with the extracted sugars from the agave heads, which are previously cooked and subjected to alcoholic fermentation”. The agave bagasse is the fibrous matter that remains after the juice is extracted. Since the blue agave has high amount of sugars, scientists around the world have been researching and making studies of the agave bagasse capability for producing second-generation biofuels (biofuels obtained from wastes that doesn’t have any value in the agricultural or industrial sector).

Bagazo Agave Agave Heads.  Source: UNAM [2]

One important research project of agave bagasse for biofuels is known as Babethanol Project, which has been leaded by the Chemistry College of Mexico’s National and Autonomous University (UNAM), the National Polytechnic Institute of Toulouse (INPT), Mario Molina’s Center (CMM), and the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT). In these studies, almost 30 scientists of 13 institutes in 10 countries of Latin America and Europe have been collaborating with a common objective: develop chemical routes for obtaining ethanol from agro industrial wastes. Dr. Eduardo Vivaldo, scientist of the UNAM, has pointed out how these scientists are trying to find a sustainable way of processing agave waste. In some countries, scientists have been making an acid or base modification of the waste product. In particular, UNAM’s scientists have been trying to develop a low cost and sustainable physicochemical method. [3]

Mr. Martín Muñoz, representative of the CRT, has mentioned in  interviews that the physicochemical process they are trying to formulate will break down the lignin (natural complex molecule that forms a resistant net), in order to be able to degrade polymers located in the agave bagasse to convert them into sugars.  From here comes the glucose that can be fermented by yeast to obtain ethanol. [4]

Although this project is still in a research phase and other studies (such as life cycle analysis) have to be made, this is a very promising alternative for the production of biofuels. In my opinion, is important to continue supporting and encouraging scientists to seek for more alternatives of biofuels based on wastes that will have a lower environmental impact than the  feedstock used nowadays.

REFERENCES

[1] http://www.colpos.mx/bancodenormas/noficiales/NOM-070-SCFI-1994.PDF

[2] http://www.dgcs.unam.mx/boletin/bdboletin/2010_382.html

[3]http://www.portalautomotriz.com/content/site/module/news/op/displaystory/story_id/31860/format/html/

[4] http://eleconomista.com.mx/industrias/2011/05/19/produciran-etanol-bagazo-agave

[5] http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2011/07/29/biofuel-from-tequila-by-products/

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