Mexican group turns Tequila byproduct into construction materials stronger than wood

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The fibrous material of the  agave plant is used as a biofuel (Courtesy Stan Shebs)

The agave plant is used to make tequila and doubles as a biofuel (Courtesy Stan Shebs)

Stigma and foreseeable jokes aside, the tequila industry may be one of the keys to sustainable development of the future. Mexican recycling startup Plastinova has created a wood substitute that is not only renewable but allegedly stronger than what nature bequeathed.

(Courtesy Camilo Cote)

(Courtesy Camilo Cote)

Already widely used as a source of biofuel in sugar mills, agave bagasse is a fibrous material left over when sugarcane stalks are pounded to leech their alcohol and sugar content. When heated in large quantities, the fibrous material can power the boilers of an entire sugar mill.

Searching for alternatives to costly construction materials in Mexico, Plastinova began combining the sap with recycled plastic to create its own wood-like material. First, the fiber is dried and ground into a powdery consistency. A chemical stabilizing compound is then added to enable the fiber to bond with waste plastic components polypropylene and polyethylene, which constitutes 65–90 percent of the composite material. The finished product takes the shape of tablets with dimensions of 39x47x4 inches which, the company alleges, can be used to fabricate construction forms, benches, tables, and chairs.

A wood-plastic item made by Plastinova using its unique material (Courtesy Plastinova)

A wood-plastic item made by Plastinova using its unique material (Courtesy Plastinova)

With 18 million acres of forestland demolished yearly, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, a feasible wood substitute heralds a sea change in the global carbon footprint outlook. However, still at issue is the difficulty of obtaining the agave bagasse from tequila makers, who naturally prefer to plow the byproduct back into their mills as a biodiesel power source. Already deploying Plan B, Plastinova is currently experimenting with coconut fiber as a raw material, which, according to early laboratory tests, may yield a yet more resilient material.

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