Photo of Alexander López

Energy & sustainability

Alexander López

Recycling cattle waste to provide alternative and renewable energy to more than 500 people

Year Honored

Estación Experimental Indio Hatuey

Latin America

Hails From

Cuba wants to reduce its dependence on expensive fossil fuels. In rural areas, the country has launched initiatives aimed at finding local, energy supply alternatives which are compatible with food security and environmental sustainability. Thanks to initiatives like these, 28% of the country´s energy is currently obtained from biomass, according to data from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (COSUDE).

Alexander López is contributing to this challenge. In the rural Cabiguán region (Cuba), this young engineer has designed and installed biodigesters that recycle waste from a nearby pig breeding center and transforms then into biogas. Thanks to this processing plant, which supplies the region with a renewable energy source, 500 residents of four communities have managed to reduce their traditional electric bills by 50%. Thanks to this advance, López has been named as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition´s Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2017.

The biogas supply system is comprised of three parts. First: the biodigesters, where organic waste is transformed into biogas. Next, the distribution grid transports the biogas to homes, after passing through a filtering system which improves the quality of the biogas. Once at customers´ homes, the biogas is used for cooking and to heat water.

López explains that the most innovative aspect of the system, which is one of a kind in Cuba, is that "the process does not require any additional energy." Thanks to López´ design´s technical and structural improvements, "the biodigesters are more efficient," according to their creator. The process yields two cubic meters of biogas for each cubic meter of digestion. "Thanks to this, we get more pressure and are able to transport the biogas up to five kilometers (just over three miles) without requiring additional energy," he adds.

López is present during the entire process. Not only does he design and install the biodigesters and supply grids, comprised of local materials, but he also trains the operators and users, who must maintain the installations.

The first biodigesters, financed by the Suiss Agency for Development and Cooperation´s international BIOMAS-CUBA program, were installed in Cabiguán in four communities. The project, which boasts a high adoption rate in these communities, is currently expanding. The team has plans to implement a further six systems which will serve 1,112 homes and a total of 5,000 residents. For now, plans for growth are local, although López does not rule out the possibility of expanding nationally and even internationally.

The director of the Biochemical Engineering Center at the University of the Valley of Guatemala and jury member for the Innovators Under 35 Latin America 2017, Carlos Rolz, highlights the "important social component" of this highly technical project.