By Emilio Godoy
Environmental innovation is gaining ground in the academic, private and government sectors in Mexico, with the creation of research and development centers for local good practices and incubators for green production initiatives.
In 2006, Mexican engineer Francisco Villaseñor founded Carbon Diversion América Latina, aimed at producing biofuel from the blue agave plant (Agave tequilana), which, as its scientific name suggests, is the raw material for the production of tequila.
With 178,000 dollars in seed capital provided by the National Council on Science and Technology, Villaseñor began to set up the first processing plant, after patenting the process and system to be used.
The production of his agave-based biofuel is “25 percent more economical than fuel oil,” he told Tierramérica. “The biofuel can be used by the tequila industry and by those who want to replace fossil fuels,” he added.
In late September, Villaseñor’s project won the Cleantech Challenge Mexico award, a competition that promotes sustainable innovation.
Initiatives like this one, which are developed in university incubators, are one of the goals of the sustainable development centers being planned by the Mexican government and private universities.
In November, the government will create the Center for the Green Economy and Sustainable Development, with a 70-million-dollar contribution from the government of the United States. The details of its functioning and aims have not yet been reported.
Meanwhile, on Oct. 4, the private Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey (Monterrey Institute of Technology) and Arizona State University (ASU), a public university in the United States, inaugurated the Instituto Global para la Sustentabilidad, considered an extension of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability.
Its goals are “to support and seek synergies among the many existing initiatives for sustainability at Tecnológico de Monterrey” and “to work with technology parks” for the creation of green businesses in Mexico, Isabel Studer, the director of the new institute, told Tierramérica.
Tecnológico de Monterrey has 32 campuses in Mexico, and at least nine of its research centers and 11 chairs are devoted to sustainability.
One of its first projects involves the U.S.-based transnational retail store chain Walmart, one of the new institute’s partners, which signed a cooperation agreement with Tecnológico de Monterrey in April to help promote the training of the micro, small and medium enterprises that are its suppliers.
Another candidate is the Japanese automotive company Nissan, which is interested in creating business opportunities through the reuse of the waste generated by its plants.
For Carlos Gay, a researcher at the Atmospheric Sciences Center of the public National Autonomous University of Mexico, the priorities for these centers should be “the management of water resources and the production of energy and food,” factors related to climate change, on the basis of “social, economic and environmental” concerns, he told Tierramérica.
The promotion of renewable energy sources could lead to the creation of some 500,000 jobs in Mexico, according to estimates from the environmental organization Greenpeace.
The Carbon Diversion pilot plant in Amatitán, in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, began operation in September, and has the capacity to process three tons of agave bagasse – the fibrous “waste” that remains after the leaves have been crushed to extract the juice for making tequila – an hour, extracting 2.16 liters of biofuel per ton, according to the company itself.
“Mexico is a paradise of wasted biomass; there is a great deal of leftover bagasse. The goal is to obtain the capital needed to establish a great many plants like this one throughout the country,” said Villaseñor, a graduate of the public Autonomous University of Guadalajara, where he is currently completing a Master’s degree in renewable energy.
Carbon Diversion plans to establish 10 biofuel plants in the tequila-producing region of northwestern Mexico over the next 18 months. The company also has a process that uses agave leaves to produce charcoal that can be used in place of firewood.
Studer believes “a community can be changed to offer global solutions. This is a very attractive model because of Tecnológico de Monterrey’s presence in various locations throughout the country, and based on this model, real solutions can be offered for local problems, and can also be reproduced elsewhere.”
Tecnológico de Monterrey plans to invest five million dollars annually in initiatives aimed at energy efficiency, carbon markets and clean energies.
Its role model is the Sustainability Consortium, which was created in 2009 by ASU and the University of Arkansas, another public U.S. university, and now encompasses over 85 entities, including non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and private companies.
The next step is to create a Latin American chapter of this consortium, in order to engage these same types of stakeholders and work with companies.
“There should be an emphasis on communities. We should draw lessons from them and apply these to society on a larger scale. Not all of the ways in which communities live in harmonious coexistence with the environment can be transferred to cities with 20 million inhabitants, but we have to find a balance,” said Gay.
Dozens of rural communities in Mexico maintain a tradition of environmental preservation and sustainable use of forests and water resources, often without financial or technical support.
The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has developed a program called Environmental Leadership for Competitiveness, geared to businesses with more than 25 employees, in which a total of 1,603 companies have participated so far.
The program has led to annual savings of 7.18 million cubic meters of water and 386 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, while preventing the generation of 394,662 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and 194,131 tons of non-hazardous waste a year. It has distributed 513,000 dollars in financing so far this year.