Apr 21, 2019 | Updated: 02:21 PM EDT

A Mexican Company is Finding Ways to Use Native Cacti for Biofuel

Mar 30, 2019 02:12 PM EDT

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With the entire known world putting forth a valiant effort to help preserve the planet, Mexico is now joining the crusade and making an enormous difference by way of native Cacti. The prickly pear, or Opuntia, grows to a height of between five and seven meters and measures up to one meter in diameter. The Opuntia isn't particularly rare either. It can be found growing wild all over the sands of Mexico. But the prickly pear, known as the nopal in Mexico, could be the key to unlocking a new and sustainable source of biofuel as well other remarkable uses.

Rogelio Sosa López, is a farmer and tortilla producer from Zitácuaro. Like many farmers, he was always open to the idea of finding new ways to keep operating costs down. Working with a colleague, Antonio Rodríguez, Señor López began pulping the flesh of nopales and fermenting it to produce biofuel, thereby helping reduce his regular fuel costs. When chopped and pureed, then mixed with manure, the nopales flesh breaks down to produce methane, the main component of natural gas, and water. López and Rodríguez went on to set up Nopalimex, a firm focused on the production of green sources of energy. Its biogas has been powering agricultural machinery since 2016 and now Nopalimex is supplying fuel to the Zitácuaro city authorities to use in a fleet of its vehicles. At a cost of just 65 cents or 12 Mexican pesos per liter, it's about one-third cheaper than standard gasoline or diesel. And it burns considerably cleaner.

Wheat, sugarcane, and soybean are among some of the most commonly grown biofuel crops. They also figure prominently in the food chain, for both people and livestock. It's hugely important for livestock feed, and its role in biofuel production is also on the rise. But creating space for soybean crops has resulted in deforestation, the displacement of endangered wildlife and catastrophic disruption of indigenous peoples' way of life.

In addition to nopals biofuel capabilities, it is also being used as a potential alternative for single-use plastic. Mainly because the juice contains monosaccharides and polysaccharides, which can be combined with glycerol, natural waxes, and proteins to create a liquid that forms into plastic-like sheets. Unlike regular plastic, the nopal juice alternative decomposes naturally when buried, which could help in the fight against plastic pollution worldwide.

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