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Biogas in Cuba: November 2019

Vermont Law School students and staff spent a week in Cuba as part of a Global Sustainability Field Study class, which focused on farm and energy sustainability in Cuba.

By Genevieve Byrne May 13, 2020

Several Farm and Energy Initiative students spent a week in Cuba in November 2019 as part of their Global Sustainability Field Study class, which focused on farm and energy sustainability in Cuba.

FEI Staff Attorney Genevieve Byrne joined Kevin Jones, director of the VLS Institute for Energy and the Environment, Molly Smith, IEE Program Coordinator, and 28 environmental law students for a week of field trips and academic classes held in and around Havana, Cuba.

They visited sustainable energy and agriculture sites, including two farms hosting anaerobic digesters used to manage manure and generate biogas used for on-site fuel. Cuba is heavily reliant on expensive imported fossil fuels, and rural Cubans tend to rely on firewood and charcoal for heating and cooking. As pork production is one of the island’s most significant economic industries, as well as one of the island’s greatest sources of organic waste, use of anaerobic digesters are especially useful in transitioning farmers away from fossil fuel consumption while recycling livestock waste.

While in Cuba, students visited a farm specializing in pork production that captures biogas from livestock waste. The farm is designed so that economic efficiency and ecological sustainability work hand in hand. Three different anaerobic digester systems recycle the waste into biogas, as well as a solid and liquid digestate. The biogas is used as fuel for cooking and water heating. The digestate solids are spread as fertilizer on the farm’s papaya fields. The nutrient-rich liquids flow into a pond used for catfish production. The “loop” closes when the pigs are fed a super-local diet of papaya and catfish.

Students also toured Finca Marta, an agro-ecological organic farm run by Fernando Funes outside of Havana. Located among rolling hills, the 8-acre farm produces 60 mixed crops, manages an apiary for honey production, and raises livestock including chickens and cattle. The manure from the cows flows into an anaerobic digester to capture biogas used in the on-site kitchen. The recycled digestate is used to fertilize a forage area.

The Cuban Ministry of Mines and Energy counts over 2,000 small-scale biogas facilities on the island. The Ministry recognizes the multiple benefits of biogas capture and has already constructed six large scale biogas facilities. It plans to build an additional 7,000 small-scale AD systems to improve pork and cattle waste management and contribute to the country’s renewable energy portfolio.

The Cuban government also hopes to build industrial biogas facilities for the sugarcane industry to recycle waste associated with canning factories and sugar mills. The Ministry projects that Cuba could produce more than 400 million Nm³ of biogas annually with up to 85 MW of power generation capacity. The biogas could offset 3 million tons of carbon dioxide and save the country up to 190,000 tons of imported oil.