Photo of Melanie Valencia

Biotechnology & medicine

Melanie Valencia

A single fungus is her weapon against two problems: deforestation and the emissions generated by decomposing organic waste

Year Honored

Latin America

Hails From

"The Ecuadorian Melanie Valencia has been named as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish Edition´s Innovators Under 35 Ecuador 2016 thanks to his project directed at resolving not one problem but two. This young woman is working on a technology which produces oils similar to palm and soy oils from organic waste. With this initiative Valencia aims, on the one hand, to reduce the level of organic waste products generated by the world whose decomposition releases methane and other greenhouse gases, thereby accelerating climate change. On the other hand, Valencia wants to provide an alternative to the aforementioned oils, whose production aggravates the deforestation of large expanses of tropical rainforests, like those in Indonesia, with the corresponding loss of biodiversity.

Valencia began to work on this project during her Master´s degree in Public and Environmental Health at Columbia University (USA) in collaboration with Kartik Chandran and Shashway Vajpeyi. There, they characterized a fungus capable of living off the organic material present in solid, urban waste and of producing an oil with similar properties to African palm and soy oils.

Although ""the original idea was to obtain biodiesel from fecal residue,"" the young Ecuadorian discovered that ""including food residue as well increased the accumulation of oil."" So they decided to redirect the project towards the commercialization of a different end product: oil. Thanks to the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, they were able to put their idea into practice with a pilot test in Ghana. With the results in hand, the details of which are patent protected, Valencia cofounded the company CarboCycle which will start treating organic waste in their own proprietary plant in the U.S. next year.

The CarboCycle project is ""excellent, and full of process innovations,"" according to the director of the Biochemical Engineering Center at the University of the Valley of Guatemala, Carlos Rolz. This member of the jury panel for the Innovators Under 35 Ecuador 2016 awards highlights the value generated through the investigation and patenting of this idea and the fund raising achieved to market the product.

In this video, Valencia explains through animation CarboCycle´s value proposition."