April 21, 2019
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Science & Technology

Young Mexicans create biofuel with almond shells

By Ivette Mota

Mexico City, Feb 2 (efe-epa).- Young Mexicans have developed an ecological fuel made from almond shells capable of substituting firewood or coal for industrial production processes, Sahara Salazar, the industrial administrator of the project, told EFE.

Samajo Biomass is a project that uses the "hard-shelled India-type almond," she said, to produce a renewable, ecological, environment-friendly fuel that does not release toxic gases into the atmosphere.

Salazar said this kind of almond is found in southeast Mexico, particularly around the town of Miguel Colorado in Campeche state.

The tree was only used for shade by the locals since they didn't know if there was any use for the fruit it produced, and which until recently was considered garbage.

"We realized the nut was under two layers, the outer one being a soft hull with a hard shell underneath. Inside we found the almond, and started studying what properties it had," Salazar said.

The multidisciplinary team of Samajo Biomass discovered that, upon processing the fruit, the outside hull, soft and thin, could be used for compost, while the hard shell underneath, once the almond is removed, is crushed, pulverized and compacted until it ends up with a texture something like coal."

"That's how we got to biofuel," Salazar said, adding that "it could have a strong productive potential in industries that need to maintain high temperatures in their production processes."

The team also analyzed the similarities of this nut with the common almonds and discovered they have the same nutritional values and the same properties as the almonds normally consumed in Mexico, which are imported from Asia and Europe.

"With this nut we began to develop food products like nutritional bars, nut brittles and marzipan," Salazar said.

Though these trees grow in hot climates, her group is trying to replicate their production in Mexico City and in Tamaulipas state, where up to now "they are germinating very well."

Samajo Biomass was the winning project in Walmart's 6th Sustainable Innovation Prize (PIS) in 2018 for Mexico and Central America, a contest that supports regional talent.

In that regard, Juan Carlos Camargo, deputy director of Sustainability for Walmart, told EFE that this competition "aims to support young entrepreneurs who have new ideas for overcoming environmental problems."

In 2018 the company received 120 entries and the best were forwarded to an acceleration process, where the entrepreneurs received counsel on strengthening their ideas and turning them into businesses with the help of "the business venture experts, Sociolab."

The cash prize awarded the winners "is seed capital" to start up and develop their projects, Camargo said.

Two years ago, Samajo Biomass began its gradual progress in research and development.

Currently the patenting and registration of its product brands are underway.

Meanwhile, the sale of its products in small amounts has already begun in Campeche state, where it has several hectares (acres) planted with 150 almond trees.

Thanks to the seed capital it won, Samajo Biomass now plans to expand production.

With regard to the prize, Salazar said it was only a first step toward reaching the team's objective.

Camargo, for his part, said that "so many people are involved in sustainability that they all ought to establish collaboration, alliances and incentives for young people to solve today's environmental problems."

The final goal is "to have a much more sustainable country," he said.

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