If a greenhouse filled with agave plants and pots of cacti is not enough to attract attention, the sign saying “tequila” placed right next to them might just do the job. John Cushman, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Reno has no intentions to make the Mexican “liquid gold.”
Although expert producers of distilled spirits might accuse him in wasting resources, he thinks that these plants have much higher purpose. And he is not the only one, who believes this. Earlier this month, his research on finding alternative sources for biofuel and feedstock while generating food supplies, was granted a five-year subsidy of $14.3 million by the Department of Energy.
Together with his team, Professor Cushman explores the genetic properties of the so-called “crassulacean acid metabolism” plants, such as agave and cactus. In states such as Nevada, where there is plenty of arid space with great potential for green and renewable energy developments, such activity would be very useful. In Reno, Nevada, fuel is imported and the local fuel economy is limited to recycling of waste and cooking oil.
Cushman is determined to change this and expand the local biofuel base by creating a balance between demand for feedstock and food requirements.
According to Nicola Kerlsake, vice president of the Nevada Institute for Renewable Energy Commercialization, the interest in Cushman’s research was triggered by the possibility of finding this balance. Not long ago, corn was considered a potential source of biofuel, however it is also a crop widely used as a food source.
The growing demand for feedstock began to interfere with the available quantity used for consumption. This could potentially increase the price of all corn-based products, such as corn syrup, oil, glue and all cornmeal based foods.