A biodigester installed in a slaughterhouse in the Argentine village of La Candelaria uses parts of slaughtered cattle that once went to waste
One of the largest producers and exporters of beef in the world, Argentina is witnessing the transformation into energy of parts of cattle once considered useless. The economy of La Candelaria, a village in the province of Salta, near the Andes mountains and close to the borders with Chile and Bolivia, revolves around livestock. The herds of small farmers provide milk and meat. What is more, the bones of each slaughtered animal are used for fertilizer; the horns, for crafts, and leather for shoes, handbags, clothes and carpets. In this quiet corner of the country, which is home to 2,000 inhabitants, the most recent innovation is that the cattle’s blood and offal are now being utilized as well. Instead of being discarded, they are fed into a biodigester and converted into gas, generating energy for a boiler to heat water for the slaughterhouse and saving electricity without harming the environment.
A pipeline that Odebrecht has installed in Argentina runs through La Candelaria. It is part of the network that crosses the country from north to south, and west to east. The compressor unit for the northern section was installed a few miles from town. To help the community, Odebrecht formed a working group to install a 30 m3 biodigester – a mini-biogas plant. The idea was approved, and they just needed to decide on the location. They chose the municipal slaughterhouse, where conditions were very poor, which set a further challenge.
“Previously, hygiene and working conditions at the slaughterhouse were limited,” says the newly re-elected Mayor of La Candelaria, Julio Romano, 40, who has been in office for four years. He says: “Thanks to the renovation of the premises and the installation of the biodigester, it is now cleaner, more efficient, and safer.” In June this year, the new era for the slaughterhouse got underway in the presence of Salta Governor Juan Manuel Urtuvey.
The abattoir operates two days a week, slaughtering an average of 15 heads of cattle per day. That number will increase as livestock production grows in the region to supply some of the butchers in southern Salta and the northern part of neighboring Tucuman province. “For the full package, a fee of 40 pesos (USD 20.00) is charged to the owner of each animal slaughtered,” says Manager Alejandro Melián: “This price includes cleaning the carcass, which is stored for 24 hours in a cold room before going on to the consumer. Soon it will also be possible to slaughter goats, lambs and piglets from this region as well.”
Damián Leal, Ruben Dario Aguilera and Luis Jurado, members of the slaughterhouse staff, agree on the benefits of the refurbishing project. “Thanks to the biodigester we can heat water to clean the building and shower after work,” says Damián. “The water used to be cold,” recalls Ruben Dario. “Now there are no more bad smells like we had when cattle waste was burned here,” says Luis. The veterinarian Martin Syan travels from San Miguel de Tucumán to La Candelaria to inspect the animals on slaughter days. He reports: “The site has improved a lot. It is more hygienic thanks to the new floor and biodigester. The animals are now slaughtered with the help of an electric shock to the head, putting an end to the suffering caused by the old system using knives.”
Maurício Barbosa Peres, the Odebrecht Manager for Administration and Finance on the pipeline expansion project, recalls the work the company has done in recent years to install pipelines, building compressors along the lines and supporting communities: “In 2008 we had the idea of installing a biodigester in a local town. After studying the matter, we decided on the slaughterhouse in La Candelaria.” The current amount of gas the biodigester produces is minimal compared to the vast network that supplies the country, but it sets an example for other slaughterhouses in South America: “It is a means of generating energy and preserving the environment.”
Guillermo Flanigan, an Argentine national from Buenos Aires, is Responsible for Administration at Odebrecht for the pipeline expansion project. He explains: “In La Candelaria, we first thought of installing the biodigester in the town school, but the experts concluded that the slaughterhouse would be the ideal location because we would have products that could be converted into gas. The blood and offal would be more useful. So, we negotiated with the mayor and partner companies.”
Young environmental engineers
One of those partners is IBS Córdoba, which has assigned three young Argentine environmental engineering specialists – Tomás Portela and Lucas Carissimi, both 27, and Luz María Tebaldi, 29 – to supervise the installation of the biodigester in La Candelaria. “The slaughterhouse really needed a complete overhaul,” argues Tomás. “After six months of work earlier this year, everything was ready,” says Lucas. Luz observes that they put together an Operating Manual for the Biodigester, which they delivered to the mayor and employees of the slaughterhouse. IBS is celebrating the news that companies in Panama and Costa Rica have expressed interest in deploying this system in Central America.
The process in La Candelaria was supported by an Argentine government agency, the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA), of which Alejandro Saavedra, an expert on alternative technologies, is a member. “We followed of every step of the project and concluded that it is bringing benefits for livestock production, generating clean energy and making it possible to use cattle byproducts as a form of biofertilizer.”
Marina Gonzalez Ugarte, who supervises Odebrecht’s social and sustainability programs in Argentina, made several trips from Buenos Aires to La Candelaria to take part in the biodigester project. In October, she attended a luncheon offered to the visitors by Mayor Julio Romano and his wife, Maxima, and saw the town’s enthusiasm with the changes that have come about in recent months. “The community is thrilled. Now they can invest more and improve their quality of life,” says Marina.
Mayor Romano, a small farmer, takes the achievements brought about by the biodigester into account and is already envisioning other ways of creating jobs in La Candelaria. “We have great weather, beautiful scenery, excellent wine and a rich cuisine. We can attract more visitors from Argentina and abroad. Italian businessmen have made investments here, like Estancia El Milagro, a rural hotel which has been refurbished and has already hosted European visitors.”