Mex­i­can cac­tus to fuel elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tor

China Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

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.


Sci­en­tists say waste from cac­tus prepa­ra­tions at the Milpa Alta mar­ket in Mex­ico City can be used to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity.

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