The Mexican company NopaliMex produces biofuel for automobiles at a lower price than fossil fuels, and without emitting polluting gases.
The project began experimenting with the corn root, in the state of Michoacán, when a producer of tortillas, the most popular food in the country, was trying to lower the costs of his business.
“The most expensive input for this industry are gas and electricity. All it takes is a slide in the peso or a devaluation of the currency for prices to rise dramatically. I wanted to find a way to reduce this impact on tortilla consumers. Thus arose the biogas plant based on nopal biomass“, Says the owner of the company, Rogelio Sosa López.
Around 2009, the company began to plant nopal, then built an industrial plant with a biodigester, cleaning equipment and an electric generator, and carried out operational tests a year later. This is how the first biogas emanations with nopal were obtained.
Today the food plant works entirely on nopal gas, and the goal set was met. "With what we saved, our tortilla became much cheaper, 30%"Said Sosa López.
The process to create biofuel from cacti seems very simple when the two Mexicans explain them. It begins with the cutting and processing of the plant. It is then mixed with manure and this causes the nopal to decompose and produce water and methane, which is used for biofuel. In addition, everything is made with national products.
The nopal biogas yield is equivalent to that of conventional gasoline, and its cost is up to 33% lower: $ 12 pesos per liter (USD 0.63). Another great advantage besides cost, is that it does not impact the environment.
“Once we had the plant, we realized that not only the calorific potential of the product could be used [it reaches a methane content of 97%], as a substitute for gasoline, but that it produced 0% polluting emissions", Held.
The company increased its production level and is currently in the middle of an expansion stage. From a 140,000 liter reactor for self-sufficiency, it went to three of 2.5 million each.
This environmentally friendly fuel "it is ready to be used by any vehicle, of any model". Just by installing a tank of natural gas, any vehicle can adapt.
The municipal government of Zitácuaro, where the plant is located, was among the first to bet on this change and has already signed an agreement to supply its fleet of police vehicles and ambulances. There are also efforts to promote the private transport sector.
The nopal is a species of cactus that is easy to reproduce and grow. According to Sosa López, the plant produces between 300 and 400 tons of fuel per hectare on contaminated land, which it also cleans up over time. It can grow even with sea water. When conditions are better, production can scale to between 800 and 1,000 tons for the same area.
The results and quantities of biomass that are produced from the nopal compared to corn or sugar cane are incomparable. This plant is far superior in biogas production.
Socio-environmental impacts of nopal biogas
By using this cactus for fuel production, decent jobs are generated. The company currently employs about 70 people, at a rate of two and four jobs per hectare. "The peasant no longer has to migrate to get a job, he can live in his place of origin“Says Sosa López.
In addition to not polluting like fossil fuels, in the nopal biogas industry, even waste is used. "The liquid that remains after production is used as a natural organic fertilizer. In Mexico this is very important because here we import fertilizers at very high prices. We do not waste anything, and who knows what more benefits we will find in the future?", Says the engineer Aké Madera associated with the firm.
Currently, Noapalimex is patented as a fuel that does not emit pollutants; it does not do so during its production and not during use.
With information from: