WASHINGTON, D.C. -- From California, news has arrived from Byogy Renewables that it has invested in a strategic partnership with AusAgave Australia, aimed at developing multiple feedstocks to develop low cost sugars for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals.
Structured initially as a strategic partnership, Don Chambers, CEO of AusAgave, will join the Byogy team to drive overall global feedstock operations — and, if all goes well, we may find that a merger of the companies may emerge down the line.
Kudos for the partnership arrived from as far away as Brazil, where Byogy established a subsidiary in 2011 and recently partnered with Avianca Brasil Airlines to support global approvals of higher blends of Byogy’s premium fuel. So, not surprising to hear that Avianca Flight Operations Director Norberto Raniero stated: “Our team now includes more elements to produce a competitive, alternative aviation biofuel.”
The Supply Chain Problem
Before we get into the story of agave — and the how and why it may become a strategic feedstock, let’s look at the problem of supply chain that bedevils aviation biofuels.
With feedstock cost representing over 65 percent of fuels final cost, according to Byogy — it makes sense for aviation biofuels companies to take a strategic interest in it. But the capital and management problems are tough. Consider the problem of, say, acquiring and managing some 200,000 acres of farmland to support a 50 million gallon aviation biofuels plant with feedstock (for this example, we’ve used corn sugar yields — obviously, cane, algae and other feedstocks have different agronomics, but you get the idea.).
So, the challenges are thus:
Else the given enterprise might run into the “Natural Law of Alternative Commodity Markets”, as described by ethanol pioneer Eric McAfee, CEO of Aemetis: “The value of any intermediate products produced in any process must be significantly exceeded by the value of the end product, or the end product will not be produced.”
This is where agave might come in. As Westar’s Cindy Thyfault noted in a slide within a presentation at a recent Avalon Air Show, agave has some exotic yields and sugar content to be considered.
What Is Agave, Again?
It’s known around the world primarily as the crop from which tequila is made — but also has been valued for its fibers. Now, like Champagne or Bordeaux, the term “tequila” can only be legally used for spirits made in Mexico’s Jalisco state. Accordingly, there’s not been a huge amount of interest in pushing agave yields in Mexico (more emphasis is on marketing high-margin tequila around the world). Elsewhere, there’s been little interest in developing agave, because marketing under alternative names like “Blue Agave Spirits” has proven to be a bust, and with competition coming from synthetic fiber.
Along comes AusAgave and Don Chambers. They’ve pushed agave yields quite a ways along. According to the firm, they’re getting more substantially biomass per acre than sugarcane, and twice the sugar content.
It’s advantage can be summed up in three letters: CAM. “Crassulacean acid metabolism” is an alternative and important carbon fixation pathways — the stomata in the leaves remain shut during the day to reduce water loss, but iopen at night to suck down huge gulps of CO2. CAM plants have low water requirements and high photosynthetic efficiency. Pineapple is perhaps the best known; and, there’s agave.
AusAgave has spent the last ten years developing intellectual property on the drought resistant agave genus by embracing plant propagation, agronomy, cropping, and harvesting techniques which result in “plantations affording at least a 50 percent yield per acre improvement over historic sugarcane productivity,” according to the firm.
“The results of our recent harvesting program have already proven our efforts to substantially increase sugar yields and decrease delivered sugar costs for select agave species, and we fully expect to continue decreasing sugar costs over the next few years,” states Chambers.
How about ethanol yields of 10,000 liters per hectare (1070 gallons per acre, per year)? That’s a start.
According to Byogy, AusAgave’s recent harvest results already demonstrate the production of low cost sugars allowing Byogy’s technology “to produce cost competitive gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, and a suite of chemicals at or below that of petroleum products without infrastructure modification, blending, or government subsidies.”
More About Byogy
Byogy’s primary goal is to produce 100 percent sustainable and replacement fuels, requiring no blending with fossil fuel and no infrastructure modifications.