At any palenque you are likely to see piles of bagazo, the fibers left over after both fermentation and distillation. In reasonable quantities the vinaza (liquid by-product) and bagazo, if cooled and separated, can both serve useful purposes. The bagazo can be used as or converted into feed, fertilizer, mulch, or compost. Certain local vegetation also naturally neutralizes and even utilizes vinaza as organic nutrients. But as demand and production increases so does the amount of vinaza and bagazo. Despite the current lack of government oversight in this area, we, as some others do, feel it is our responsibility to figure out how to meet demand while managing our waste naturally, organically and sustainably.
Sustainable Solutions in San Luis del Rio
In 2018, we began working with Alejandro Montes Gonzalez and his company COAA, who have advanced experience in the formulation and resistance testing of compacted earth construction. In the case of Mezcal, Alejandro studied and assisted with the traditional adobe making techniques in Santa Catarina Minas with Graciela Angeles of Real Minero that utilizes earth, bagazo and vinaza. He also collaborated with the forward-thinking team at Sombra Mezcal to offset much of their by-product generation with a novel assembly line of adobe brick production that benefits communities in the Mixe, Santiago Matatlan and other communities in Oaxaca. This is an amazing program, and it is functioning quite well with the different brands around Matatlan who are participating.
Del Maguey needed to implement a different system in San Luis del Rio due to its remote location and limitations on the banks of the Rio Hormiga Colorada River.
Making New Land
The answer, thankfully, came from Ron Cooper, who said, “Why don’t we just build new land?” We just had to find a method that was economically and sustainably feasible.
The first iteration of new land construction in San Luis del Rio created an extension of the Palenque that measured 4.5 m in height x 16 m in length and 9 m wide. Using a formula based on the principle of 30% vinaza, 30% bagazo, 30% earth, and 10% lime, Alejandro and COAA began work on an enclosed structure that was filled with this material, a material that when tested in earthquake conditions, is more resistant than many other building materials, including cement and concrete.
This extension to Paciano’s palenque incorporated over 100 tons of bagazo, 150,000 liters of vinaza and 60 tons of earth set between prefabricated concrete walls and columns.
We sponsored a scholarship for Alejandro to continue his studies at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, where sustainable compact earth construction is a vanguard approach to land development.
In the meantime, Del Maguey has continued to build new land. Since July 2018, Del Maguey has incorporated 600 + tons of bagazo and 500,000+ liters of vinaza in this project. It has effectively created a large patio that will act as a petri dish for phyto-remediation projects, a river causeway, and the base on which another vinaza neutralizing project is underway. These combined projects will occupy all of Del Maguey’s by-product generation for years to come.
Gravity Fed Filtration
An important part of the process of neutralizing the vinazas before they can be used is regulating their pH. Alejandro helped design a simple and effective gravity fed filtration system to decant bagazo fiber and sediment from vinaza liquid. As the vinaza decants, it cools. This regulates the pH level of vinazas which is one of the most harmful aspects of releasing this organic by-product into waterways. The gravity-fed system ends in large 25,000 liter cisterns, where the liquid continues to cool. Step by step, we are constantly improving our methods to neutralize contaminating effects of this organic by-product.
We are very happy and proud to share with you the work we have done with Paciano over the past few years in San Luis del Rio. We are excited to be working with forward-thinking scientists, engineers and producers who are constantly striving to improve our practices while not compromising the tradition and culture of Mezcal. We will continue to actively pursue opportunities to use our waste in ways that will be beneficial to our producers and the communities we touch and we will continue to update the blog with our progress along the way.