Iram Mondaca

Mexican Regions Combine to Create Bioenergy Potential

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 08:56

The potential for bioenergy in Mexico is very high for forest biomass in the south and southeast regions of the country, high for new sugar-cane plantations in all the states surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, and middling for other energy crops such as castor, sorghum, and jatropha in central, western, and northern Mexico. This potential is also fairly distributed in crop residues all over the country. REMBIO, the Mexican bioenergy network, has been focusing on guaranteeing the steady development of this sector in Mexico. “The public sector should promote policies, create opportunities, call for proposals, and encourage research and development activities,” says Iram Mondaca, President of REMBIO. “In order for the bioenergy sector to truly develop, efforts from private companies, universities, and researchers in biogas generation, advanced biofuels, first generation biofuels and evaluation of already existing potential have to be coordinated.” While several bioethanol plants are already in the planning stage, REMBIO sees no prospects for large-scale biodiesel plants beyond demonstration projects. Biomass power plants have not been announced either, although three sugar mills have started a cogeneration project that will be interconnected to the national grid. To avoid the potential negative consequences of developing bioenergy, Mondaca says it is very important to evaluate the lifecycle of each technology, together with the feedstock used for the production of biofuels, in order to determine the potential environmental impact and energy gains. “It is very important to determine the amount of energy obtained and compare it with the input of energy from other sources, which most often are fossil fuels.”

Jatropha planting has been encouraged by three states through subsidies and promotion programs since 2008 but few positive results have been achieved, and most planted areas have now been abandoned by farmers. However, the operating framework in Mexico is still not actively promoting the production of bioenergy. “There are isolated efforts by some government offices but they lack coordination to develop the sector,” says Mondaca. The Law for the Promotion and Development of Bioenergy (LPDB) has succeeded in setting up the first legal basis in Mexico for biofuels, which has resulted in an improvement in funding. However, the lack of regulations is still impairing 

the development of the industry. This law also only includes first generation biofuels but does not address advanced, or second generation biofuels. “SAGARPA has worked mainly with crop derived biofuels while SENER and PEMEX have not made real advances in developing this sector,” Mondaca claims. Advanced biofuels are not obtained from crops and have been recognized as a better option but there is no regulation that indicates which governmental entity is in charge of regulating second-generation biofuels.

Renewable energies have found support from the Mexican government in such documents as the General Law on Climate Change. However, bioenergy has not received the same treatment and there has not been a public call for biofuels projects in Mexico. “Other countries have subsidized biofuels like ethanol or biodiesel. However, the Mexican government is not doing that,” Mondaca emphasizes. “It is hard to believe that there will ever be any subsidies for biofuels to boost the development of the industry.”

REMBIO has been collaborating with the Mexican government to study the potential of biofuels in the country and the sustainability of first generation biofuels. The association has also created an important partnership with UNAM and other Latin American, European, African and Asian institutions to develop strategies to boost the growth of biofuels in industrialized countries. Developing countries can be the main providers of feedstock but the main challenge is to consider the social, economic, and environmental impacts of these activities.

“Companies such as Moosi & Ghisolfi, which is a leading producer of PET, are becoming interested in developing facilities for the production of advanced ethanol that would be obtained from biomass. Kuosol, a company formed by Repsol and KUO, the Mexican cluster of companies in the food, chemical and farming sectors, are set to develop biofuel projects from jatropha in Southeast Mexico. Companies like Kuosol are covering the entire value chain, from crop production with R&D processes, to the future oil extraction industry and the production of biodiesel,” Mondaca explains. “Given the high amount of resources available in Mexico for the production of bioenergy, these activities could generate economic growth, create new jobs, and contribute to reducing greenhouse gases emissions.”

If the sector fully develops, some estimates have stated it has the potential of creating 200,000 jobs involving power generation through biomass and 500,000 more jobs from the production of methanol in sugar cane plantations in Central Mexico. REMBIO will continue to work alongside both the public and private sector to the potential of this industry. “We must start development as soon as possible because if tomorrow we decide that we need bioenergy, it will not be easy to make it appear out of nowhere,” Mondaca adds.