Camilo Pagés
CoFounder and Director
Sistema Biobolsa

Reviving Rural Economies Through Biogas

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 13:44

For a long time, history was littered with civilizations that crumbled into dust. Today, a pattern has appeared and their collapse is traced to several sources, some of which capture our attention, including transgression of ecological boundaries and intensive agricultural systems. It is a littleknown fact that agriculture ranks highly on the list of emitters of greenhouse gases and is a precursor for air pollution. The intensification of agriculture and energy is leading to the conundrum of how to maintain existing patterns of consumption and the environment simultaneously. Sistema Biobolsa, a company specialized in anaerobic digesters, attempts to answer this question through the technology it has created: modular anaerobic bio-digesters.

Sistema Biobolsa began ten years ago as a company working in creating small scale biogas technologies for Mexican and Latin American rural communities. Its CoFounder and Director, Camilo Pagés explains the enormous potential, “In Mexico there are over 4 million small farms and rural households that could benefit from this technology and this was a powerful driver to create Sistema Biobolsa.” Its system is characterized by being small-scale and modular and it is made by using a highly resistant geo-membrane that delivers flexibility. “We manufacture, package, and ship the system to any part of the world,” Pagés describes. “The advantages of the system are that it is easy to install, taking up to two hours, and its modular design means the capacity can be expanded.”

Reviving rural economies, creating employment, and maintaining ecosystems require a unique methodology and Sistema Biobolsa has perfected it. In the traditional smallscale biogas sector rustic processes are used with local materials, a process which is inefficient since it can take up to six working days to implement. “We have a unique program where we generate local capacity in communities and we have biogas experts in each community,” Pagés explains. The benefits end users attain from the system are numerous, with one of the most salient being that their household and production processes become energy independent. This enables communities the opportunity to generate economic savings and displace fossil fuels. Additionally, the resulting waste can be used as nutrient for the fields and can reduce contamination of local water resources by mitigating animal waste contamination and use of chemical fertilizers. “Handling the waste properly reduces the risk of infections and in some segments the displacement of wood in the household has additional health benefits,” Pagés points out.

Displacement of energy is at the heart of these systems, and Pagés is swift to confirm this. “Our efforts are aimed at displacing LP gas and gasoline usage in the agricultural sector.” The level of displacement will depend on the size of the system and amount of biogas produced. In some cases, clients can place 100% of their energy consumption into biogas, and others can even enter an agreement with CFE in which they displace a large part of their electricity bill. In order to generate impact reports and track the financial return of the clients, Sistema Biobolsa has a monitoring and evaluation system for every digester it installs. Through its database the company is aware of which type of energy is used and which forms are being displaced.

The success of these energy systems depends heavily on governmental support, and for the company, the interaction with the authorities closely resembles that of a supplier. “We study different programs and operative guidelines published by the government, and we explore the opportunities in these funding sources with our clients,” Pagés explains. “Sometimes there are specific tenders and programs such as the FAO food security project where our technology is among a combination used to meet program objectives,” he adds. A demand for these systems must be generated despite these programs, so Sistema Biobolsa works alongside agricultural producers to present the paperwork in order to obtain subsidies that vary between 50-70%. In these early stages of the technology, this level of government involvement is crucial in supporting early adopters and allowing companies like Sistema Biobolsa to create a strong portfolio with a rich project pipeline. So far, Sistema Biobolsa has installed over 2,000 systems across Mexico and expanded into markets in Central America and the Caribbean with the varying support from governments and international development funds.