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The Nopalimex biogas plant in Michoacán. The Nopalimex biogas plant in Michoacán.

Nopalimex’s nopal gas will sell for 12 pesos

Michoacán nopal biogas station will be first in the world

A company in Michoacán is ready to start selling an emissions-free biogas produced from nopal for just 12 pesos per liter after increasing its production capacity earlier this month.

The filling station operated by Nopalimex and located in the municipality of Zitácuaro will be the first of its kind in the world to sell fuel made from the plant that is also known as prickly pear cactus.

The factory where the fuel is made is located next to the new station in the town of Camémbaro.

Nopalimex technical director Miguel Aké Madera told the newspaper Milenio that the nopal biogas rivals regular gasoline in terms of quality but at 12 pesos (US $0.65) per liter it is 33% cheaper and has the added benefit of not harming the environment.

“The performance is exactly the same as gasoline because the important thing here is its calorific value. Once it’s put through a cleaning process and it reaches a 97% methane content, it’s ready to be used by any vehicle, of any model. It’s better than gasoline because it’s cheaper and doesn’t generate greenhouse gases, it doesn’t contaminate the environment,” he said.

However, motorists first need to modify their vehicles’ fuel tanks at a cost of 25,000 to 30,000 pesos (US $1,365- $1,640).

An early customer for the fuel is the Zitácuaro municipal government, which has already signed an agreement with Nopalimex to supply its fleet of vehicles such as police cars and ambulances, while taxi drivers and transport companies have also expressed interest in the new fuel.

The company is consequently developing plans to further encourage potential customers to make the change to its product.

Commercializing the nopal fuel is the culmination of more than 10 years of vision and hard work.

In 2007, Aké Madera, an electrical engineer, and Rogelio Sosa — a businessman with agricultural and tortilla production interests — started a project to research the feasibility of developing the biogas through the processes of anaerobic digestion.

Sosa was faced with an urgent need to reduce his liquefied petroleum (LP) gas costs.

In 2009, the pair started an eight-hectare nopal plantation and also began work on the construction of a biodigester, which has the capacity to break down eight tonnes of organic matter per day.

The method the system uses has been compared to the way that a cow’s stomach works.

In 2010, the fledgling company reached a point where it was producing 800 cubic meters of biogas on a daily basis.

Since then, the plant has met the energy requirements of the El Manjar del Campo maize mills, which together supply 25% of the municipality’s tortillerías, or tortilla shops. Some of the mills’ vehicles have also run on the nopal fuel.

However, it wasn’t until the Michoacán state government assisted the company with the installation of a compressor that it became viable for Nopalimex to produce the biogas on a larger scale and commercialize its product.

Sosa invested 2.5 million pesos (US $136,500) himself in the new compressor, which started operations on March 19 and enables the company to produce 50 cubic meters of biogas per hour.

He explained that reaching the stage where the company is now, from an initial goal of just producing enough gas for the mills, has “completely exceeded our expectations.”

However, Sosa stressed that the journey to get there hasn’t been easy because the renewable energy industry in Mexico is a hard one to break into.

The businessman said he has invested 34 million pesos (US $1.8 million) of his own money over the past 11 years to keep the project moving forward.

In April 2016, the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) granted a patent to Aké and Sosa which protects “the process and equipment of obtaining biogas from cacti through anaerobic digestion.”

Aké explained that for almost 40 years he has been studying the methods to produce biogas using raw materials including cassava, maize, sugar cane and barley.

However, “the most suitable plant for energy generation is the nopal,” he said, because “it doesn’t require large quantities of water like other biomass.”

“It adapts to arid, dry and cold regions,” Aké added.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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