Desertification: nopal cactus more efficient than Jatropha for the drylands – (Got Powered / Elqui Global Energy / Rodrigo WAYLAND M.)

Today, I received a very interesting mail from Rodrigo WAYLAND M. :

” I read your articles about cactus and its application in deserts

Do you know the biogas cactus?  We are building power plants with cactus for 10 years. applicable to vehicles and even compressed biogas.  I invite you to visit our website


The nopal cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) - Photo Got Powered)



A nopal biomass can obtain a high yield biogas

A nopal plantation in Mexico (Photo Elqui Global Energy)

The cultivation of nopal, a type of cactus, is one of the most important in Mexico. According to Rodrigo Morales, Chilean engineer, Wayland biomass, installed on Mexican soil, “allows you to generate inexhaustible clean energy.” Through the production of biogas, it can serve as a raw material more efficiently, by example and by comparison with jatropha.

Nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a remarkable drought-tolerant plant species, producing a maximum of biomass with a minimum of water (Photo Elqui Global Energy)

Wayland Morales, head of Elqui Global Energy argues that “an acre of cactus produces 43 200 m3 of biogas or the equivalent in energy terms to 25,000 liters of diesel.” With the same land planted with jatropha, he says, it will produce 3,000 liters of biodiesel.

This cactus grows quicker with less water and less labour than Jatropha (Photo Elqui Global Energy)

Another of the peculiarities of the nopal is biogas which is the same molecule of natural gas, but its production does not require machines or devices of high complexity. Also, unlike natural gas, contains primarily methane (75%), carbon dioxide (24%) and other minor gases (1%), “so it has advantages from the technical point of view since it has the same capacity heat but is cleaner, “he says, and as sum datum its calorific value is 7,000 kcal/m3.

A biogas installation in the center of nopal plantations (Photo Elqui Global Energy)

As a more positive element, the Chilean engineer mentions that “the process of obtaining methane generated as organic sediment and water products, which are processed for incorporation into the soil by earthworms, which permits the treatment of organic waste.

In turn, the water nitrogen obtained from the reactor also included in nopal plantations as fertilizer back into the modern irrigation system. And all with no less a fact: this type of cactus is well suited not only to unfavorable weather conditions for other crops but also degraded soils, of low quality.

Thus, a set of products is generated from the use of cactus as biomass: biogas, electricity, water, nitrogen, humus, earthworm flour as animal feed and carbon credits by participating in the process the carbon dioxide absorption. .

Anecdotally, it is worth mentioning that the nopal biogas is used for more than 100 years in China and other Asian countries, but not until 1984 that researchers at the University of Chile generated the knowledge so that this plant is capable of producing large amounts of energy growing in marginal conditions.

Biogas installations in Zitacuaro Michoacan, Mexico (Photo Elquii Global Energy)


Early studies year 1984 at the Universidad de Chile (Contreras and Toha) discovered by accident the nopal fermented in anaerobic conditions produces gas volumes significantly.

In 2000, Mr. Rodrigo Wayland (food engineer) prepares his thesis and finds this information which applies in the treatment of waste from the insect Carmine cochineal feeds on the wise of the prickly and which gets the carmine red dye. Thus the first biogas plant is built with prickly pear cactus worldwide to produce electrical energy.

How easy to have the biogas production unit close to the cactus plantation itself (Photo Elqui Global Energy)

Various plants are built in the next decade until 2010 made first exploration in Mexico country in which the nopal is represented in its homeland, the flag symbol.

Planta para produccion biogas zitacuaro Michoacan, Mexico produce biogas para calefacción y electricidad.


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.