Manila, Philippines --- In this age of increasing prices of petroleum, a 76-year-old businessman and inventor has developed remarkable innovations to resist being a slave to fossil fuel.
His name is Gonzalo "Jun" Catan Jr. His name probably rings a bell, being the founder of one of the country's biggest pest control companies, Mapecon Philippines, Inc.
But to describe Catan as a mere businessman who earns a living by driving away rats and other critters is to sell him short; he is an entomologist (one who studies insects) as well as an inventor with a flair for clean, green and efficient energy.
His inventiveness and penchant for the environmentally-sustainable has actually spawned an entire subsidiary of his company - Mapecon Green Charcoal Philippines, Inc., or simply MGCPI. Established in 1990, MGCPI lives in a rather non-descript green building in Vito Cruz, Manila where the gray-haired, suspenders-wearing Catan pursues his guiding principle.
"There is nothing we cannot recycle," he tells this reporter.
That, in a nutshell, is Catan's blueprint for innovation: Recycling. This is quite evident in MGCPI's signature product, Green Charcoal, which he began experimenting with in the mid-90s.
As its name implies, Green Charcoal spares precious trees from kaingeros or slash-and-burn farmers who produce the usual kind of uling (charcoal). Instead, Catan uses biodegradable wastes and other biomass from both household and industrial garbage as his raw materials.
"Biomass includes all kinds of grasses (like talahib, napier, cogon), cuttings or branches of pruned trees, leaves, water lilies, agricultural wastes from coconut, rice, bananas, palm, sugar cane, sorghum, corn (and) biodegradable garbage including food wastes," he said.
With these materials, Catan was able to produce a slow-burning fuel in Green Charcoal, the applications of which has the potential to gradually, if not drastically, cut the country's oil imports.
"A further development of Green Charcoal technology is that now more hydrogen gas can be produced during combustion," the inventor said.
The "Green Charcoal Hydrogen" paved the way for two other "green" innovations - JCEL diesel and the hydrogen cooking system. These two products are safer, cheaper and more efficient alternatives to commercial pump diesel and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), respectively.
JCEL stands for "Jesus Christ the Exalted Lord" (Mapecon is a corporate church where Jesus Christ is the President and Catan the Executive Vice President of the company).
Introduced in the market in 2010, JCEL diesel results to increased mileage for the vehicle in use (20 percent higher) as well as reduced tailpipe emissions (at least 50 percent), Catan said.
A test conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau's (DENR-EMB) technical group showed that MGCPI's diesel brand produced 65.6 percent less emissions against regular diesel fuel.
Moreover, its price is five percent lower than that of regular diesel and has good lubrication properties.
According to Catan, JCEL is made by applying green hydrogen gas with catalytic botanical oily enzymes into ordinary diesel. "We use diesel as raw material to form another type of fuel," he explained. He said the process improves the efficiency of the base product.
All 30 company vehicles of Mapecon run on JCEL diesel, said Catan whose Green Charcoal earned him the Bronze Medal in the 24th Geneva International Exhibits of Inventions in 1996.
Hydrogen cooking gas
Green Charcoal Hydrogen also has applications in the kitchen wherein the gas is harnessed as cooking fuel, replacing expensive and potentially dangerous LPG.
"There is no danger of explosion with hydrogen. If hydrogen leaks and combines with oxygen, it becomes water," the septuagenarian said. Likewise, it eliminates the health hazards posed by the chemicals emanating from LPG, such as the cancerous nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Aristocrat Restaurant on Roxas Boulevard, Manila has been using the hydrogen cooking system since March 2010, after MGCPI converted two of its five kitchens.
A report on the best practices in the Philippines on climate change adaptation noted that from March 2010 to November 2011, or a period of 12 months, Aristocrat was able to replace 50,400 kilograms of LPG with green hydrogen, translating to savings of P300,000. The report came from the MDG (Millennium Development Goal) Achievement Fund.
"MGCPI reported that the switch in fuel 'reduced the greenhouse gas emissions, especially the NOx emissions from burning LPG, which when absorbed into the human blood can be a carcinogen even at only 0.1 ppm (parts per million) concentration."'
Catan said the restaurant now saves 15 percent from its monthly LPG expenses.
For smaller-scale cooking operations in canteens or in the household, Catan created the "Organic Kooking" machine, which also uses hydrogen-producing Green Charcoal as fuel.
There is yet another MGCPI product that brings Catan's ideas to full-circle: its natural fertilizer known as "vermicast", which are in fact worm castings from night crawler earthworms.
Through a patented method called "vermilog", the company, in its 3.4-hectare plant in Alaminos, Laguna, is able to propagate millions of worms that produce good quality vermicast.
Vermilog involves feeding the worms with food prepared from organic wastes, leafy vegetables and other biomass in predetermined proportions, thus maximizing their productivity.
The plant can produce up 20 metric tons of the natural fertilizer and 20,000 liters of Biotech Fertilizer (known commercially as MBA 54) daily. Catan said that his could fertilize the equivalent of 5,600 hectares of rice, replacing 2.24 million kilograms of petroleum-derived chemical fertilizers and the corresponding amount of fungicides and pesticides.
"Vermicast is complimentary to the Green Charcoal Hydorgen project," said Catan.
"We spend big money to import fuel. This affects food security. Our problem is serious. We cannot compete if we do not have indigenous sources of fuel."
Catan said that vermicast encourages farmers to do away with harmful chemical fertilizers with the promise of a better harvest. His guarantee: "As they produce more food, we will produce more fuel."
MGCPI even accepts agricultural wastes as "payment" for vermicast, depending on what the farm worker or client can provide, be it the refuse from coconuts, coffee, banana, rice or other crops. These are then used as raw materials for Green Charcoal.
"We're just doing our part. I want to contribute my share in attacking the problems of the millennium," he said.
If it's biodegradable, then Catan can recycle it.