Without a doubt, organic residues valorization is an innovative energy production technology that, although it has been in sight for men for a long time (i.e. burning of residue to get energy), it has been until recently that the process has been considered as a way to tackle health, pollution and energy security problems.
In few words, a bio digester is a machine that produces biogas out of organic waste. Biogas can be used to produce heat by combusting it, which can then be turned into electricity. More on the technology of this project will be published on a second blog.
After the Milpa Alta organic residue plant got inaugurated in May, many industry insiders were talking about it, but some of the concepts were not properly stated therefore losing sight of the reality of both the project and the innovation.
On this first blog, we asked Jahir Mojica, CEO of SUEMA, what makes the Milpa Alta project so important, and here are the results:
Q: What is SUEMA?
A: SUEMA is a company that has grown organically. Over the years we have shifted our strategy, but we always like to think of SUEMA as a company built to promote a circular economy, an economy in which residues are either eliminated or diminished as much as possible. We started as a consultancy company for waste management and then entered into the design and commercialization of machinery for this industry.
With this experience, we found that if a circular economy is not considered for the development of waste management projects, many residues that have value will end up not being used. Because of this reason we decided to enter into the business of waste management and tackle the problem, implement a circular economy that will benefit mainly the communities in which we work at.
Q: What makes the Milpa Alta project unique?
A: The Milpa Alta project is unique in Mexico and even the world because of three main aspects:
1.-The most important aspect is the in-situ processing of the waste. Worldwide there are several plants that turn residues into electric energy, but they are all part of a centralized waste management system where the residues are collected, gathered and transported to the processing plant. Europe has several examples of this centralized system, such as the PIVR plant in Barcelona. Unfortunately, these kinds of centralized systems have negative effects on two main areas:
- a) Economics: During collection for centralized plants, no matter the efforts, residues get mixed. The processes used on waste valorization require of thoroughly separated residues, meaning that the mixed residues have to be separated by mechanic means prior to the processing by specialized machinery, which means a higher upfront investment. This is also reflected in an increase of operation costs as more personnel and maintenance are needed.
- b) Education: Taking the treatment away of the residue producers means taking away their stewardship towards them, which makes the producers unaware of the residues´ value. Losing track of the residues’ value and the process to take advantage of them means that the generators will be either oblivious to the valorization process or, if they support it, will want the process to take place as far away as possible from their living area.
Having an in-situ treatment overcomes these two negative effects by reducing the immediate and long-term costs of the plant related to separation, while it makes the generators participants of the whole waste valorization, making them aware of the benefits of it, creating a mind shift towards waste valorization and ultimately opening space for future green opportunities in which they will be prompter and eager to participate.
2.- Then we have the financing of the project, which is a complete new kind of making business. The terrain in which we installed the plant is right beside the central market, it belongs to it and during a public assembly the market representatives decided that it would be used by SUEMA for the project without a cost. This means that the project was embraced and supported by the community before the government, which does not usually happen. The only condition to get use of the land was that SUEMA had to commit to the construction of the plant, requirement that has now been fulfilled. Another innovation of the project is based on the fact that Mexico City’s Secretary of Science, Technology and Innovation (SECITI) gave SUEMA MX$13 million, out of the almost MX$15 million that were needed for the fulfillment of the project, not as a subsidy, but as an investment. To get the investment, SUEMA committed to deliver the know-how of the plant’s construction as a replicable model that could be taken to other locations.
3.- Finally, we have the technology aspect. As of 2010 there were 721 bio digesters installed in Mexico, and it is estimated that today there are around 1,400, but as most of them were provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) all of them are made out of plastic materials with low durability. They are for wide-spreading promotion of the technology, not for intensive use. Our plant is unique in the market because it is a 100 percent Mexican design made out with cutting-edge technology and materials. Some of the components were bought abroad due to the lack of local manufacturers, mainly the sensors for the control of the process and the pumps, but besides those specific components we were able to make the plant with about 80 percent of Mexican content, most of that coming from Queretaro, Jalisco and Mexico City.
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