Creating Solutions for Waste Management and Biofuel ProductionBy Jan Hogewoning | Mon, 11/09/2020 - 10:12
Q: What have been your most successful projects in the area of biofuel energy generation?
A: The most emblematic project that we have developed is the living lab we built in the south of Mexico City, which aims to take advantage of all the waste from public markets and transform it into clean energy. This project involved a variety of elements, from social interventions in rural communities to consultations with the communities in the area. This project generated five utility models and received international coverage, including documentaries in France and Germany. Not only did it generate awareness of environmental care among all those involved but it also demonstrated the effectiveness of a technology that was 80 percent developed in the country.
We also have projects that have not been as disruptive. In Jalisco, we built a waste treatment system for an industrial farm to produce energy. In this project, we used all the sewage to create an artificial wetland and generate water to be discharged into other areas. It is quite an innovative green infrastructure.
Q: You have worked on biofuel projects, recycling plants, composting and ultra-fermentation. How is SUEMA technologically innovating in these areas?
A: Since launching the company almost 10 years ago, we have worked in the bioenergy sector on a variety of projects, including biogas and ultra-fermentation plants for the treatment of meat waste. This is our core business. However, four years ago, a report on the state of marine pollution was published at the World Economic Forum and since then there has been a great transformation in the plastics industry. We were not alien to the movement and its causes and we have developed some projects for the recovery of plastics and prevention of marine pollution. We are working on the development of systems specially designed for coastal areas, which are the most vulnerable to pollution. One of the problems with the recovery of plastics at sea is that collection and transport are very expensive.
That said, the technology we are developing seeks to recycle on-site. Communities, especially those far from urban areas, need ways to transform the recovered plastic into useful products as part of the reintegration into local value chains and avoid paying the cost of transportation to the center of the country. In Quintana Roo, for example, there are islands like Holbox, many protected areas, where people bring plastic materials holding their food and then ships have to go and pick up the waste to take it to Cancun's urban areas for treatment. Sometimes, from Cancun, they have to transport it to Queretaro or Toluca. This means that the plastic travels more than 1,000km. In response to this problem, we are developing a concept called LabMares, which are centers for the recovery and transformation of plastic waste on-site.
Q: What solutions can SUEMA offer to companies in different industries in Mexico?
A: The community recycling projects we have worked on have been done largely with the support of the Coca-Cola Company in Mexico, one of our main clients and sponsors. This company has very ambitious goals regarding materials recovery and building a sustainable and circular supply system through these types of projects. Other companies and industries are following suit. There is a global pact that was signed two years ago in which almost all large consumer products companies have committed to recovering 100 percent of the waste generated from the consumption of their products by 2030.
We help these large industries achieve their environmental goals. To do this, we need to go into the communities, understand how they work, initiate urban interventions, introduce technology and design projects tailored to the local context. This is how we provide great value to large companies. They are experts in the circular economy, logistics and strategy, but on-site they need allies to help them execute their projects and meet their sustainability goals at the national and international levels.
Together with the Danone Group, we developed an app called Recíclatelo (Recycle it), which we launched in August. This application allows us to connect those who generate waste and separate it with those who recover and recycle it. This is another example of how large consumer products companies are thinking about transforming their value chains toward more sustainable practices.
Q: What is the key to attracting support for a new project?
A: We must be highly aware not only of the communities' needs but also of the international commitments that large companies are signing up to. As active citizens, we tend to demand companies do something but we do not recognize that they do it. The challenge is that sometimes the problem moves faster than the execution. We have learned to empathize with industries or large companies. We consider ourselves their allies.
Q: What is the difference between working in an urban community and a rural community?
A: It is certainly a challenge. We have been working with the Mexico City government and companies in the area for many years and it is much easier to have a meeting with a high-level executive in the area. However, in the rural environment, one of the biggest challenges is that industries and corporate offices are centralized and, often, there are no telecommunications. But there are other advantages. Talking to a municipal president or reaching an agreement with a community is sometimes much easier than talking to a mayor in Mexico City. Resources are another obstacle. Cities usually have the largest budgets and smaller communities have less budget for everything.
SUEMA is a consultancy and project developer focused on organic residuals processing. It offers both recycling and biofuel solutions