Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

The agave plant has long been used to make tequila, the drink often blamed for a big night, but it could now help produce a cost-effective biofuel for Australian farmers.

The plants are being grown at Central Queensland University in Rockhampton for a science project.

Scientists say the plants are hardy so they are well suited for drought conditions.

PHD student Deepa Rihjal says a variety of agave plants are being sampled.

She is working on a method to best predict when the leaves can be harvested.

“So that the farmers can use a hand-held machine and predict it in the field, which is quick and non-invasive and doesn’t use any harsh chemicals,” she said.

MOVING from Nepal to Rockhampton was one of the biggest steps in Deepa Rijal’s life.

Her passion for botany saw her travel across the globe with her family in 2002 to follow her dreams.

What did you study?

She started studying at Central Queensland University in 2010 and seven years later she’s one of the eight Central Queensland University students to graduate with a PhD in 2017.

Deepa completed a Masters in Botany in Nepal before she firstly migrated to Sydney.

Deepa graduated last Thursday with a specialisation in Bioethanol Production Potential of Agave tequilana.

Tell us about your work

She explained the plants commonly used to produce tequila were also a feed stock for an alternate source of fuel.

“I monitored the growth of the agave leaves and at what age was best to harvest the leaves to get the maximum bioethanol production,” Deepa said.

“I studied 11 species of agave and from those species I looked at the best performing species which was the plant that produces tequila.

“We found that because its a drought tolerant species it doesn’t need much fertiliser and or water as it was an excellent source of bioethanol fuel.”

Her husband’s civil engineer degree took them to regional areas of the state before finally landing in Rockhampton where Deepa was granted a scholarship to study at CQU.

What were the challenges you faced during your PhD?

Deepa’s degree came with endless experiments and analysis which meant it sometimes took a toll on the quality time with her husband and two children.

“Some of the days I was at university from morning to evening, those were some of the tough times,” she said.

“My youngest was two year old when I started my degree so it was difficult to juggle everything so I ended up switching to part-time study.”

Deepa said it was her close network of friends and family that allowed her to still study despite juggling family and work.

“My kids were so patient with my study through the years and now they’re so proud of me,” Deepa said.

“Everyone’s so proud and my dad came all the way from Nepal for my gradation,” Deepa said.

Future plans?

Deepa, who now lived in Cairns, said she planned to branch into further agave analysis and was excited to delve further into her research.