Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Business Innovator: Acesa Bioenergia, Brazil



Imagine a sewage-treatment system that powers itself. The possibility is not just an energy issue; it’s a public health issue. In Brazil, only 20 percent of waste matter is treated because the amount of energy required in the treatment process makes facilities prohibitively expensive to operate. The remainder is often dumped into rivers and other open waters, causing wide-scale pollution. But Rio de Janeiro natives Marcio Schittini and Luiz Felipe Pereira have developed a novel two-in-one solution.

The company they created in 2007, Acesa Bioenergia, uses power generated by sewage itself to clean up the waste. From the facility’s supply of “biomass,” the term for any renewable organic fuel, the company captures the “biogas” emitted by its decomposition, which can then be refined into natural gas to power the facility or for resale. According to Schittini, the system will not only produce enough natural gas to cover 100 percent of a treatment plant’s energy demand but can also become a net supplier of energy. Because a plant’s energy costs are second only to personnel costs, both partners hope their model will make large-scale sewage treatment viable and profitable, proving that energy happens.

Similar concepts have proved successful elsewhere. An estimated 30 percent of Denmark’s energy production is fueled by biomass—though not just sewage-based. “What we’re proposing is not by any stretch of the imagination entirely new,” concedes Schittini . “There are available models all over the world; they just haven’t been tried here in Brazil.” Due to its wealth of biomass, the partners believe Brazil is uniquely positioned to benefit from replication of these models.

Schittini, 30, and Pereira, 31, have been working together since 2004. Their project is now in a research stage at the ETE Alegria sewage-treatment plant in Rio de Janeiro, and is operating in conjunction with three other energy companies, allowing it to offer a vertical end-to-end solution, from production of natural gas to distribution.

The two are also currently in talks with several food producers to discuss gaining access to the biomass left over from their production (rather than consumption) of foodstuffs.

Few companies are aware of the bonanza that resides in their manufacturing processes. Schittini has yet to see a single company during his travels throughout Brazil that even attempts to measure how much biogas it wastes. But if Acesa Bioenergia is successful, Brazilians will soon come to see the benefits.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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