Luis Andrés Álvarez
Biodiesel Moreco

Education: Key in Unlocking Biofuel Potential

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 09:05

One of the main challenges faced by any new industry involves the lack of information and how to get traction within society’s well-established consumer habits. Pioneer companies must take on the burden of introducing new processes and convincing potential consumers. “In order to promote the creation of an industry and guarantee high-quality products, we have created partnerships with schools and universities so we can use their facilities to work on new production alternatives,” says Luis Andrés Álvarez, CEO of Biodiesel Moreco.

The supply of biodiesel in Mexico is limited due to the few companies that produce it. In the particular case of Biodiesel Moreco, the company has focused on producing biofuels with used restaurant kitchen oil in different cities outside of Mexico City. “The main problem that we have found in our home state, Michoacan, is how to best educate people, show them how to recycle, and explain why they should do it,” explains Álvarez. Biodiesel Moreco has been actively participating by giving conferences at universities, but the education campaigns have proven to be more successful with children than with adults. “There are a lot of interests involved and instead of receiving support for our environmentally responsible business, we have been asked to pay for the used kitchen oil,” he remarks. Used kitchen oil has no real use in Mexico and is commonly discarded down the sink, polluting 1,000 liters of water with just 1 liter of used oil. For Biodiesel Moreco, this situation makes little sense since usually people pay to have their trash taken away and now people are charging them for taking the used oil. “The government should regulate and promote these initiatives because we are providing a service managing waste materials,” says Álvarez.

Many restaurants and households do not know what to do with the leftover oil and cleaning oil polluted water is a very complicated process. As such, the company’s 

education programs revolve around teaching people what to do with their used oil and communicating the benefits of using biofuels. It has even organized oil collection centers and campaigns, similar to existing battery collection centers. Despite the initial lack of interest, the citizens of Morelia have slowly become more aware about waste management topics. “This is why the key to educating the public is to approach the children of Mexico, fresh minds that are willing to accept these new ideologies,” comments Álvarez. Free advertising in social networks has also proven to be an important incentive for providers to give up their used oil. In order to put these initiatives to work, strategic alliances with federal, state and municipal agencies such as SEMARNAT and Michoacan’s Ministry of Urban Development and the Environment, were needed. By establishing an award system for contributors, supported by these agencies, providers are able to more easily see the appeal of donating used kitchen oil to biofuel companies. Biodiesel Moreco manages this program across the board but has sought government approval.

A measure of support was received from the state government and the company was awarded a prize for its environmental care activities. “We signed an agreement to sell biodiesel for 19 trucks belonging to the government and OAPAS, the municipal water entity. They even wrote about us on the back of the water bills when they found out about our initiative,” says Álvarez. Two noticeable advantages can be observed by using biofuels in vehicles; the black fumes that spout from exhaust tubes disappear and the wear and tear on engines is significantly reduced. Moreco sells biodiesel regularly to five companies in Morelia, farmers and Grupo Perc in Queretaro through a strategically defined price scheme. “However, without regulations to complement this cultural change, there cannot be a complete incentive to donate used kitchen oil on a broader level,” Álvarez emphasizes. “Issuing fines for the incorrect disposal of oil could be a way to promote the donation of oil to green companies.”

People around the world are increasingly aware of green initiatives and sustainable practices, bringing a favorable reaction to such projects that encourage eco-friendly practices. “But there is a long way to go from being interested to really becoming green due to the costs that this implies,” says Álvarez. “However, there are many people and restaurants willing to collaborate with us by collecting oil in their communities.” Biodiesel Moreco has designed collection routes to go to different restaurants in an area, providing containers for used oil. Different local councils have become very interested in applying these initiatives and getting similar campaigns starting. “Personally, I am not betting on planting crops to obtain oil since this would require a very important investment and large fields,” says Álvarez. “With that amount of investment, you could create a very efficient recollection network within major cities.”

Biodiesel Moreco has been working in Queretaro collecting oil while the government of Guanajuato recently invited the firm to start operations there. But many Mexican cities represent large opportunities for waste oil facilities due to the amount of waste they generate. “We want to become an authority and educational entity regarding oil issues, but we still need governmental support to reach a larger audience,” adds Álvarez.