MEXICO CITY – Mexican scientists are developing a bio-refinery that will convert organic waste into hydrogen, natural gas and substrates used in industry, the Center for Advanced Research and Studies, or Cinvestav, said.
The project will emulate the operating model of a traditional refinery and obtain different products from the same material, in this case waste, Carlos Escamilla, a doctoral student in Cinvestav’s Biotechnology Department, said in a statement about the project he is heading.
That process will enable scientists “on the one hand to extract as much as they can from the same organic residue and on the other to eliminate it as far as possible” Escamilla said, adding that “if you subject the waste to a first, second and third process, the residue is gradually reduced.”
Several countries already produce hydrogen and methane from waste products, but they do so in separate processes, according to the scientist, who has been working on the project for the past four years.
The novelty of the Mexican initiative is that hydrogen, methane and enzymes are to be produced from the same raw material.
The enzymes are non-toxic substrates used in different processes, including bleaching paper, clarifying fruit juices or removing impurities from them, Escamilla said.
He added that the methane gas obtained from the waste material could power a mini-bus, stove or home heater and help reduce CO2 emissions.
Mexico is facing the challenge of declining production at once-massive oil fields “and garbage could be the solution to mitigate this problem, since the great advantage of waste is that, unlike oil, it’s a renewable resource that we’re constantly generating,” Escamilla said.
Converting all daily organic waste from the Valley of Mexico, where Mexico City is located, into electric power would provide enough electricity to keep 900,000 25-watt, energy-saving light bulbs lit or power more than 151,000 compact automobiles – roughly 4 percent of all vehicles in Mexico City – for 10 kilometers (6 miles), he said.
According to the doctoral student, Mexico produces 102,000 tons of garbage per day, or almost 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) per inhabitant, and 60 percent of that total is organic waste that “could generate large amounts of electricity, natural gas and substrates for industrial use.” EFE