El Biogas… or an Epilogue to the “Energy Revolution” / Miriam Celaya

This beautiful example of a cow is, of course, not Cuban. Photo taken from a website

Someone said that necessity is the mother of invention, a phrase that could explain the proverbial fame of Cuban “inventors”, always having excess necessities. However, to establish itself as a source of well-being and progress, the invention process requires certain material resources and civil freedoms beyond imagination, intelligence or the desire to do something, otherwise it becomes a backwards move.

Thus, the noted Cuban inventiveness — at least for the last half-century – has manifested itself primarily in the philosophy of misery, where each invention is not based on creating something truly new and revolutionary (and here the term refers to the technical side) but on the repairing or patching up of old equipment previously invented or — as we usually say — in the discovery of warm water, which consists in changing what was a novelty in the XIX century and applying it as a good thing in our current everyday indigence. Examples abound, but the newspaper Granma (Wednesday, September 12, 2012, page 3) (Wednesday September 12, 2012, p. 3) recently presented to us one of the countless cases which, in addition, are offered as paradigms of efficiency in the official press.

“Biogas in a bag obtained in Pinar del Río”, is the headline of a half-page long article which informs us, in a tone full of optimism, that they have already been successful at packaging biogas in plastic bags in Pinar del Rio” something new, even if it’s just an “isolated” experience, but one that “could transcend into a greatly useful innovation.”

It is known that biogas is highly flammable, so the editor is quick to reassure us: this is about –- the architect of the initiative stated — a safe process, because the biogas can be collected in the same plastic bags used at The Conchita Cannery for storing tomato pulp, which are “hermetically sealed, very resilient and able to withstand high temperatures.” He adds: “there is no need to compress the gas when using them, therefore, the process becomes much easier and efficient.” The process is that easy, since each device (bag) takes about 30 minutes to fill and “enough biogas is provided for food preparation for two days for a family of three.”

Though the use of biogas is not a recent discovery or anything of the sort, and we are familiar with numerous non-industrial applications in various regions of the globe, the report takes great pleasure in reporting the benefits of this fuel. Among them, the reporter reminds us that it is a renewable energy source, benefitting the environment by taking advantage of a gas that otherwise would end up in the atmosphere, increasing CO2 pollution, and helping families economize by reducing electricity consumption. The idea is to replace the consumption of electricity used in cooking food, because the latter is usually used “in most Cuban homes” thanks to that so-called energy revolution (remember?) promoted a few years ago by the unmentionable (remember him too?).

But, fundamentally, the article promotes the innovation of packaging biogas in plastic bags, a process so simple that it will allow the expansion the operations by excluding ducts to bring biogas from places where it’s collected to the kitchens of the homes, and, at the same time, this system avoids possible sanitary complications of such facilities.

To wrap it up, a small box appears that illustrates the indisputable benefits of the invention, generated by the creativity of an innovative Cuban to solve a local problem and that the official press presents as a palliative to the energy crisis that hundreds of thousands of Cuban homes are enduring, not to mention what awaits us. The Box reads:

It is estimated that one cubic meter of unburned biogas released into the atmosphere equals one ton of CO2.

In contrast, its usage will allow cooking three meals for five people, or generate the energy equivalent to 0.5 liters of diesel, 0.6 liters of kerosene, or 1.6 KW-hour of electricity. In order to accomplish this, the researched bibliography indicated that it’s just processing of one day’s worth of the excretions of three cows, four horses, nine pigs, ten sheep or one hundred thirty chickens.

Here, my friends, lays the crux of the equation… or, rather, the essence of Cuban innovation. It turns out that the invention is really economical, it only requires that the would-be consumer of biogas somehow find a way to get some plastic bags at his neighborhood cannery, which may not be so difficult if he knows some potential supplier who works there, if the manager is a friend of his –- in which case he could make use of State resources — or if he would accept selling them at a reasonable price, if in Cuba any price can qualify as such. That minor inconvenience solved, all he would have left is the tiny problem of availing himself of three cows, four horses, nine pigs, ten sheep or one hundred thirty chickens whose fecal matter would guarantee the cooking of three family meals, as long as the family consists of only five members.

In other words, poop would be the most expeditious route to food on the table. All that’s left is to pray, so no uninvited guest shows up who may alter the scrupulous planning of the family biogas bag. Though, on second thought, there is always the recourse of making a quick collection of raw material for this fuel with the voluntary contribution of family members and neighbors, taking into consideration the equally proverbial generosity of Cubans. I have only one concern, and that is the appearance of another innovator who will discover a way to make this resource more productive and effective with the use of some laxative…Good riddance!!

Translated by Norma Whiting

September 14 2012