Mexican cactus to fuel electricity generator
MEXICO CITY — The prickly pear cactus is such a powerful symbol in Mexico that they put it smack in the middle of the national flag. It was considered sacred by the ancient Aztecs, and modern-day Mexicans eat it, drink it and even use it in medicines and shampoos.
Now scientists have come up with a new use for the bright green plant: Producing renewable energy.
The prickly pear cactus is farmed in Mexico. It is instantly recognizable with its jumble of spiny discs, a bright red fruit protruding from each one.
Its soft inner flesh plays a starring role in popular dishes from tacos to candies.
The cactus’ thick outer layer, with all those spines, has always been a waste product — until researchers developed a biogas generator to turn it into electricity.
The pilot project was launched in May at Milpa Alta’s sprawling cactus market.
The far-flung neighborhood is a splash of green amid the smog and concrete of this Latin American megacity, thanks in part to its more than 2,800hectares of fields of prickly pear cactus, known in Spanish as nopal.
The area produces 200,000 tons a year of prickly pear cactus — up to 10 tons of which ends up as waste on the floor of the cactus market each day.
A local green energy startup called Energy and Environmental Sustainability — Suema, by its Spanish acronym — got the idea to develop a biogas generator to turn that waste into energy.
They decided to build it right at the source: The bustling cactus market, where hundreds of workers start each day by cleaning up the waste left from the day before.
Oil-producing Mexico has emerged as a green energy leader in recent years.
Suema’s generator will ultimately produce 175 kilowatthours of electricity — enough to keep some 9,600 low-energy light bulbs burning.