Agave sisalana is a proposed biofuel plant that can be grown in semi-arid conditions unsuited to food crops.

The plant is already grown for fibre in countries like Brazil, Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar.

The university said sisal fibre has traditionally been used for marine ropes, bailer twine, and rugs, but currently it is also finding new uses such as reinforced plastic composites for car door panels.

Phaitun Bupphada is the student who is sponsored by the Agricultural Research Development Agency (ARDA), Thailand to investigate the genomic biology of agave within the Institute of Integrative Biology.

Bupphada said biofuels are a credible way of reducing the dependence on oil, but the areas in which they are grown requires careful planning.

"Understanding how plants like agave grow in marginal areas means we can maintain food supply, while also creating alternative sources of income for communities," Bupphada said.

Supervised by plant biologist, James Hartwell, Bupphada is investigating the genomic basis for agave’s ability to grow productively in dry regions.