He Recycles Farm Wastes Into Gold
Gonzalo “Jun” Catans name has long been associated with household and industrial pest control. He has been in that business since 1961 and is still very much in the same business. Of late, however, he has also turned his attention in a big way to recycling farm wastes into gold.
He has three main commercial products recycled from various wastes. Foremost is activated carbon which has many industrial uses like purifying water supplies, softdrinks and many more. He makes activated carbon out of coconut shell which is plentiful in Southern Luzon where he also has his factory.
Another product is what he calls green charcoal, a fuel that produces higher heat than the ordinary wood charcoal. It is made of grass and other biomass like water hyacinth (wrongly called water lily in this country), tree leaves and many more.
His latest recycled product is vermicompost, a potent organic fertilizer produced by earthworms that feed on the same farm wastes which Jun uses in making green charcoal.
Catan explains that it takes a lot of fuel to produce activated carbon because the raw materials (coconut shell) have to be subjected to extremely high heat of 1,000 degrees Celsius. The factory in “Alaminos, Laguna can produce 4.5 tons of activated carbon a day which sells at P72,000 per ton. About 2.5 to 3 tons of coconut shell produce one ton of activated carbon.
The main cost of producing activated carbon is fuel. The former owners of the factory which Catan took over failed to make any profit because the boilers needed some 6,000 liters of bunker fuel a day to operate. That means P3.2 million worth of fuel a month. Thanks to Catan’s green charcoal, the cost of fuel was reduced to P800,000 a month. And that is the reason why his operation has become profitable.
In making activated carbon, the coconut shells are crushed into the right sizes before they are placed in the kiln, where the right moisture is maintained. These are subjected to 1,000 degrees Celsius for 8 hours. Instead of bunker fuel, Catan uses his green charcoal as fuel. Aside from being cheaper, green charcoal is more environment-friendly because unlike bunker fuel, it does not emit a lot of carbon dioxide. Catan explains that green charcoal is much more efficient because it has a heating power of 59,000 BTU (British thermal unit) compared to 29,000 BTU for LPG and 18,000 BTU for bunker fuel.
Green charcoal is a product of Catan’s own research. The farm wastes are shredded, infused with hydrogen-producing beneficial microorganisms and enzymes, and then extruded to form small round “logs” about 1.5 inches in diameter. These are subsequently cut into shorter pieces.
Green charcoal is much cheaper to use than LPG, according to Catan. That is why it is extensively used in public markets where it is used for boiling water used in dressing chicken. The users are saving at least 40 percent by using green charcoal instead of LPG. Catan has also fabricated appropriate stoves not only for use in boiling water in public markets but also for household use. The household model is also convenient for use by families during outings in remote places.
Catan has also come up with a reactor that uses green charcoal as fuel to run engines instead of using electricity. In fact, he has a reactor using green charcoal which is used to power a shredding machine. That is what Catan is using to shred farm wastes like pineapple leaves and stumps which are subsequently used for making green charcoal or for feeding earthworms to produce organic fertilizer. In fact, green charcoal can also be used to power moving vehicles. He has a Multicab truck that has been fitted with a hydrogen reactor using green charcoal as fuel. Twenty kilos of green charcoal can run the vehicle more than 150 kilometers, or round trip from Catan’s Mapecon office in Manila to his factory in Laguna.
One possible use of his technology is in big sugarcane plantations. The thousands and thousands of tons of cane tops can be made into green charcoal and the green charcoal can then be used to power trucks for hauling the canes. Another possibility is to use the green charcoal for drying copra and at the same time extracting the oil right at the village level.
One timely project that Catan got into recently is the production of organic fertilizer via vermiculture or the use of earthworms to convert waste materials into plant food. This is very timely in the light of soaring prices of chemical fertilizers.
His vermiculture project started when he and a provincemate, Alex Amor, received the Oriental Negrense Award given by their home province in 2005 (he is a native of Valencia). That time, Amor had already a thriving vermiculture project but he lacked cash to buy a delivery truck and for expanding his operations. He asked Catan if he could lend him a million pesos.
When Catan asked Amor how he would pay him back, the latter said he could pay him an interest of 4 percent a month. Catan replied that was too much. He asked for just a 3 percent monthly interest, and it would not be in cash. He said that Amor could pay him with earthworms worth P30,000 monthly. Amor liked the idea very much because that’s even easier to do than paying in cash.
At the start, Catan found that it was not that easy to culture earthworms. The first few batches he received were failures. The worms died or that they escaped their growing bins. He had to attend different seminars on the subject and then conducted his own research. He found that the worms require special feeds that will make them multiply and do their task of transforming their food into organic fertilizer.
Today, he claims he has mastered caring for the earthworms. He has formulated their feed using various raw materials that are available, including spent tea leaves from a local tea factory (eight tons a day), grasses, rice straw, water hyacinth, “buko” wastes and others. These are shredded, inoculated with beneficial microorganisms and enzymes, and then extruded to form what he calls “vermilogs.” Different feed formulations are made, depending on the intended crops to be fertilized. Leafy vegetables, for instance, may require more nitrogen so ipil-pil leaves may be included in the formulation
Today, Catan produces 4 to 5 tons of organic fertilizer. He is selling his product at around P7 per kilo, picked up from the factory. That’s much cheaper than the price obtaining in retail outlets (P25 per kilo) in Metro Manila.