By Patricia Grogg
Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Dec. 12 (IPS) In the industrial
kitchen of the Marién NGouabi Farm Institute in the Cuban
province of Pinar del Río, no one is bleary-eyed from wood smoke
or feels stifled by the heat anymore. Our working conditions have
been humanized, says Ciro Emilio Ortega, standing in front of
a huge boiler where lunch is stewing.
The change was brought about by a biogas plant installed on the grounds
of the Institute, where more than 700 students are being trained as
veterinary and agronomy technicians. The plant uses the manure from
three cattle farms.
We used to cook with firewood, in the middle of the smoke and
the heat. Now we work in much more comfortable conditions, says
Ortega, the current head of the kitchen team that is working hard to
prepare lunch for the Institutes students and staff.
The flames from the two-burner stove are as strong as those on any conventional
stove, but this one is not fired by fuel that pollutes the environment.
The savings are also considerable, says Oscar Castro, assistant director
of finance at the Institute, which is located in Pinar del Río,
just over 170 kilometers west of Havana.
According to his estimates, the biogas stove and a second one that consumes
another waste product, sawdust, save the Institute the monthly expense
of using 200 liters of gasoline to fuel the vehicles that hauled in
Castro mentions the environmental benefits among the main advantages
of the biogas plant.
Biogas is obtained from the process of anaerobic digestion of organic
matter like manure or vegetable waste by bacteria in warm, wet, and
airless conditions. The inexpensive and renewable fuel can be used in
motor vehicles or combined with natural gas to fuel the lighting system,
and serves for industrial and household uses as well.
Besides taking advantage of waste that pollutes the environment, the
process of producing biogas generates what Castro described as an excellent
fertilizer, which can also be used as food for fish or fowl.
The waste (produced by the biogas generation process) is used
as fertilizer on the land that is cultivated by the students to practice
what they are learning, and to supply the Institute. Chemical fertilizers
arent used here, says Castro.
The Institutes biogas plant is the only one of its kind in Pinar
del Río, but not in Cuba, engineer José Antonio Guardado
He said there were more than 100 small and medium-scale installations
that use biogas, especially for cooking fuel. Many of them make use
of manure from cattle and hog farms.
A plant that operates in the Las Tecas motel in Villa Clara, 300 kilometers
from Havana, produces nearly 300 cubic meters of gas a day, enough to
run the motels kitchen and barbecue.
The investment involved in the most expensive and complicated
plants of this kind is recuperated in around three years. Las Tecas
recovered its investment in half that time, says Guardado, in
charge of the development of this source of energy in the non-governmental
The cost of installing a small plant is 1,000 dollars. But this
one wont cost us more than 800 dollars, he says.
Cubasolar (Cuban Society for the Promotion of Renewable Energy Sources
and Respect for the Environment) emerged in 1994.
According to the government, Cuba has the potential to produce more
than 150,000 tons of fuel per year, from some 78 million cubic meters
of biodegradable waste.
As a sugar-producing country, we also have several installations
in which we use cachaza (the residue left after filtering the pressed
cane juice) which has a range of uses, including the generation of biogas,
He explains that experts in Cuba are working on developing technologies
that use organic material in urban gardens, the number of
which has significantly increased in the past 10 years.
We already have a small prototype of a biodigester (a sealed,
airless container in which organic waste matter is fermented to produce
gas) which uses vegetable waste in urban settings. Projects are also
being carried out in city dumps, he says.
He points out that the basic underlying principle of the projects is
to ensure that they are cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and
useful to society.