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Now Legal in Mexico, Smart Recycling’s Biodiesel Is Sticking It to the Man

Theo Ellin Ballew - OZY
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May 22, 2017

Smart Recycling’s Moises Flores (Theo Ellin Ballew)

The entrance to Smart Recycling’s warehouse is flanked by two huge plastic vats, both filled with dark brown, slightly viscous liquid. One vat contains leftover vegetable oil that, 30 years ago, would have been trash. The other contains that oil’s more valuable future self: biodiesel. This building, on the outskirts of Puebla, Mexico, is the new home of the biodiesel plant run by 28-year-old Moisés Flores.

In January, Mexico was hit by protests more numerous, violent and vehement than those against its neighbor’s new president. Government-owned oil company Pemex had hiked its prices by 20 percent, in a move known as gazolinazo, making many of the country’s most important products, including food and water, more expensive. Major cities were swarmed with protesters. Children in their mothers’ arms bore signs calling for President Peña Nieto to resign. Nuns and priests chanted, “Christ is calling for freedom … the church is fighting for you.” Months later, even while prices have more or less returned to where they were in 2016, signs reading “No al gasolinazo” still speckle cars and homes.

Now, people are looking for alternative energy sources. Of the five or six Mexican companies producing biodiesel, Smart Recycling is emerging as one of the most important. Flores reports that production has grown by more than 150 percent since January; it now produces upwards of 400 gallons a day. His was the first biodiesel company in Puebla, the fourth-largest city in Mexico, and is the closest to Mexico City. Before biodiesel, Flores’ father, Victor, ran the company as a recycling business — today, biodiesel is the company’s chief focus, but those years of energy and waste-industry contacts have simplified procuring raw materials, one of the main challenges in the Mexican biodiesel industry.

Until 2013, companies like Smart Recycling were illegal in Mexico: For the previous 73 years, Pemex was a government-enforced monopoly. Pemex never traded in biodiesel, a broad term encompassing any fuel made from natural products such as cooking oil, soybean oil or animal fats. But any producer of that fuel would have been viewed as a competitor, and therefore illegal.

... Now, Flores has a chance to turn Smart Recycling from a small experiment into a permanent industry leader. He began working on biodiesel almost immediately after the Pemex monopoly was lifted. It took six months to perfect the first machine, and he says he “learned a lot more online than [he] did in school” about how to make it, despite his degree in chemical engineering from Mexico’s prestigious Ibero-American University.

Read the rest at OZY

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