The Maguey as building material.

The agave is a multi-use plant. Aside from its edible and medicinal uses (and lets not forget tequila or mezcal) it has other utilitarian purposes. The skin of the penca can be used as a type of baking paper, string and rope can be made from these fibrous “leaves” and much of the plant can be used as building material.

In some species the thorn at the end of the agaves penca is so sturdy that it can be used a nail (in “soft” woods).

Maguey pencas used to build a temzcal (1)

The pencas of the maguey can be used as a form of roofing or wall covering material. Once heated over an open flame they become flexible and can be threaded through a wooden frame to create a waterproof covering. The quiote can also be used as a building material and it finds its greatest utility when dried.  It is often used as firewood and has been used to build log cabins. It has been noted that if covered with a layer of cement, a home built of quiotes can last up to 100 years

  1. A temazcal ([temasˈkal]) is a type of sweat lodge which originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica.
Dried agave “logs” being used as a building material

Agave quiotes grow very quickly (as much as 1.5 metres in a week) and can grow as high as 12 metres. The rapid growth of the quiote creates a very light and strong fibrous log. The logs are nearly as light as balsa wood and have a resistant outer shell similar to the various species of bamboos. The wood is very easy to work with and can even be split in half, hollowed out and used as irrigation half pipes.

If you are harvesting the agave for its wood then you will not be using it for aguamiel production as the quiote needs to reach its maximum height and be harvested upon the death of the plant.

It has been noted by some that this fast growing wood is 100% sustainable and this is undoubtedly true as it can really only be harvested when the plant dies. So, unlike trees, nothing is prematurely killed for its resources. “Fast growing” is a bit of a stretch though. The quiote may grow as high as 12 metres in as little as 8 weeks but it needs to be remembered that it may be as many as 40 years (although more likely 12 to 15) before the maguey reaches maturity and sprouts a quiote. So, much like trees there still may be decades between harvests.

Agave fibre has been added to concrete to see if it would increase its strength. It was found (Sahana 2019) that adding agave fibres of between 3 and 5cm in length at ratios of 2, 4 and 6% increased both the compressive (1) and split tensile strengths (2) of the concrete. Addition of 8% fibre resulted in lower strengths than conventional concrete. Concrete is normally reinforced with steel bars so experiments of this type offer the opportunity to use locally available materials that are cheaper and more environmentally sustainable that steel and potentially creating lighter overall mass. In Tunisia fibre from Agave americana L has been added to cement mortar as a reinforcing agent and has shown to increase its flexural and tensile strengths and demonstrated its suitability in developing low cost construction materials particularly for roofing, wall panels and other building boards in countries where A.americana L. fibres are readily available.

  1. Compressive strength of concrete is the strength of hardened concrete measured by the compression test. The compression strength of concrete is a measure of the concrete’s ability to resist loads which tend to compress it.
  2. Tensile strength is the resistance of a material to breaking under tension. Tensile strength is an important property of concrete because concrete structures are highly vulnerable to tensile cracking due to various stresses. Tensile strength of concrete is very low in compared to its compressive strength. Split tensile strength is tested by making a cylinder of concrete and then compressing it across its diameter.

Adobe is a Spanish term for an unbaked mud brick. Adobe is one of the oldest and widely used building materials made from soil and/or clay and usually incorporates some form of organic material such as straw or dung.

Mud bricks, such as adobe, have a long history of use. The oldest discovered bricks, dating before 7500 BC, were found at Tell Aswad, in the upper Tigris region and in southeast Anatolia close to Diyarbakir (Turkey).

An archaeological site at Tel Tsaf in the Jordan Valley dating to 5,200BC

The oldest freestanding mud-brick structure in the world is the ceremonial enclosure of Khasekhemwy–Hierakonpolis in Egypt (the Shunet el-Zebib) . Almost 5,000 years later, it stands as a testament to the abilities of its builder, King Khasekhemwy, the last ruler of the Second Dynasty (ca. 2686 B.C.). For the third time, it has been listed with the World Monument Fund as one of the world’s 100 most endangered monuments.

Shunet el-Zebib

Adobe bricks are somewhat sturdy but we must remember that simply by blowing his horn (OK it was a magic horn) that Joshua destroyed the (adobe) walls of Jericho and that these bricks could benefit from from some reinforcement. The agave plant offers a solution.

Agave bagasse from mezcal production has also been tested as a strengthening agent in the production of adobe bricks.

These bricks have several advantages over other construction materials (such as baked clay bricks) in that they are lower in cost, can be created from readily available materials, are recyclable and can be returned to the environment, and they can reduce pollution in that there is no baking process involved in their creation (1). There are however some disadvantages to using them as they can deteriorate rapidly due to humidity, erosion (by rain) and shrinkage and they generally exhibit low flexural and compressive strengths and may not react well to seismic loads.

  1. they are sun dried
Fresh adobe bricks drying in the sun

A study was performed in Mexico (Chinas 2018) using soil and coarse sand collected from Cruz Blanca, Cuilapam de Guerrero in Oaxaca and Agave angustifolia haw bagasse fibre from a palenque (1) in the town of San Juan Guelavia in the Tlacolula district of Oaxaca to produce adobe bricks and test them against the Mexican construction regulation norm N-CMT-2-01-001/02, 2005. It was found that by using bagasse fibres 25mm in length at a concentration of 1% (2) both the compressive and flexural strengths of the bricks were improved and not only did they fulfil the Mexican construction regulation norm they improved from a Class D to a Class C product.

  1. A palenque is a mezcal distillery. Within a palenque, the agave is roasted, crushed, fermented, distilled and bottled.
  2. tests were conducted with fibre lengths of 10, 15, 20 and 25mm at concentrations of 0.25, 0.5, 0.75 and 1 wt %
  3. compressive strength was increased by 33%

I have briefly discussed the use of waste agave bagasse from tequila production as an alternative to various types of bioplastics (See Post Agave Straws : An Alternative to Plastic). This waste bagasse has also been trialled in the production of fibreboard (1). The bagasse was hammer milled into long and short fibre fractions and compressed to make a composite wooden board. Testing showed that medium specific gravity fibreboard had similar moisture and mechanical properties as compared to medium specific gravity fibreboard made using aspen (2) fibre. All high specific gravity agave fibreboard made from short or long fibres were stronger in bending than the ANSI standard for hardboard.(Oñiguez etal 2001)

  1. a type of engineered wood product that is made out of wood fibres. Types of fibreboard (in order of increasing density) include particle board or low-density fibreboard (LDF), medium-density fibreboard (MDF), and hardboard (high-density fibreboard, HDF).
  2. Populus (genus). Aspen is considered to be a “soft hardwood”, it is less prone to expansion and contraction during temperature and moisture changes in its environment.
  3. covers requirements and test methods for water absorption, thickness swelling, modulus of rupture, tensile strength, surface finish, dimensions, squareness, moisture content, and edge straightness of five classes of basic hardboard.

  • Chinas, Fernando. “Effect on Compressive and Flexural Strength of Agave Fiber Reinforced Adobes. 2018.” Journal of Natural Fibers 15, no. 4 (2018): 575–85. doi:10.1080/15440478.2017.1349709.
  • Hasel, Michael G. (2019). “Architecture”. In Freedman, David Noel (ed.). Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 246-247?. ISBN 978-1-4674-6046-0.
  • Oñiguez, Gilberto & Lange, Sandra & Rowell, Roger. (2001). Utilization of byproducts from the tequila industry: Part 1: Agave bagasse as a raw material for animal feeding and fiberboard production. Bioresource technology. 77. 25-32. 10.1016/S0960-8524(00)00137-1.
  • Onuaguluchi, Obinna & Banthia, Nemkumar. (2016). Plant-based natural fibre reinforced cement composites: A review. Cement and Concrete Composites. 68. 10.1016/j.cemconcomp.2016.02.014.
  • Oudiani, A. & Chaabouni, Y & Msahli, Slah & Faouzi, Sakli. (2010). Agave Americana L. Fibres Reinforced Cement Mortar.
  • Rosenberg, Danny; Love, Serena; Hubbard, Emily; Klimscha, Florian (22 January 2020). “7,200 years old constructions and mudbrick technology: The evidence from Tel Tsaf, Jordan Valley, Israel”. PLOS ONE. 15 (1): e0227288. Bibcode:2020PLoSO..1527288R.
  • S. Sahana Sastry , Veena N, 2019, Effect of Agave Fiber on the Strength Properties of Concrete with Fly Ash, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING RESEARCH & TECHNOLOGY (IJERT) Volume 08, Issue 06 (June 2019),

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