Sep 152014
 

We hope you will enjoy our eleventh quiz about the geography of Mexico.

How many of the following can you answer? (If you answer a question incorrectly, you can have more tries before the answer is revealed.)

Good Luck, enjoy, and Happy Independence Day!

Geography of Mexico Quiz 11

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Sep 132014
 

Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil giant, will start drilling the first of two deep exploratory wells in Mexico City later this month to investigate an aquifer deep below the city that is believed to hold vast quantities of potable quality water. For further background, please see our previous post on this topic:

The test wells are part of a $30 million multi-agency study now underway that incorporates experts from the Water System of Mexico City (SACM), the National Water Commission (CONAGUA), the engineering and geology departments of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and Pemex, which is providing the technology to drill the wells.

Later this month, Pemex will start drilling the first 2000-meter-deep test well in the Magdalena Mixhuca Sports City area, in the eastern part of Mexico City. Each well will cost an estimated $7.6 million to complete.

Schematic stratigraphy of the southern portion of the Basin of Mexico.

Schematic stratigraphy of the southern portion of the Basin of Mexico.
Source: Adapted from Mooser, 1990.

Ramón Aguirre, the CEO of SACM, says that the two test wells will target two different zones, increasing the chances of demonstrating the value of the aquifer as a viable source of water for Mexico City. In particular, Aguirre expects the wells to help confirm that there is an impermeable cap of clay separating the deep aquifer from the principal aquifer in the area (from which water is already extracted). An impermeable layer would mean that water could be safely removed from the deep aquifer without leading to downward drainage of water from the aquifer above. It is expected to take about two years for the initial studies to be completed.

In its National Water Plan, CONAGUA has warned that population growth in the Valley of Mexico could result in serious water shortages by 2030, reducing annual availability from about 4,230 cubic meters/person to less than 1,000 cubic meters/person.

The major aquifer currently used lies at a depth of between 60 and 400 meters and is heavily over-utilized. There are about 630 wells in the Federal District alone; all are overexploited and have an average life expectancy of 30 years. Current extraction from the aquifer is around 17,000 liters/second, while its natural recharge capacity is only 8000-9000 liters/second. It is believed that the deep aquifer could be capable of supplying approximately 5000 liters/second.

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Sep 112014
 

A toxic spill at a copper mine in the northwestern state of Sonora is the Mexican mining sector’s worst environmental disaster in recent history.

The mine is owned by mining giant Grupo México, Mexico’s largest mining corporation and operated by its Buenavista del Cobre division. Grupo México is the third largest copper producer in the world and has a rail transport division, Ferrocarril Mexicano (Ferromex), that operates Mexico’s largest rail fleet. The Buenavista del Cobre mine, part-way through a $3.4 billion expansion plan, has some of the largest proven copper reserves in the world and is the world’s fourth largest copper mine.

The spill allowed 40,000 cubic meters of toxic copper sulfate acid to enter the Tinajas stream in the town of Cananea on 6 August 2014. Buenavista del Cobre claimed the spill was the result of an unforeseeable heavy rain storm, which triggered a rise in the level of water and copper sulfate in a holding tank being constructed at the copper mine. Grupo México has formed a team of 20 experts from the University of Arizona and Mexican universities to investigate the spill.

However, an initial report by the National Water Commission (Conagua) determined that the spill was caused by a flawed polyethylene pipe at one of the mine’s leachate tanks, together with a faulty valve at another tank. Conagua attributed the environmental disaster to negligence on the part of the company. Mexico’s federal environmental protection agency (Profepa) reported that the contaminants from the spill included copper, arsenic, aluminum, cadmium, chromium, iron, manganese and lead.

Sonora-Copper-Mine-Spill-

Credit: Jesus Ballesteros/Expreso-Cuartoscuro.com

Mexico’s Environment Secretary Juan José Guerra Abud called it the “worst natural disaster provoked by the mining industry in the modern history of Mexico,” and confirmed that the spill contaminated not only the 17.6-kilometer-long (11-mile-long) Tinajas stream, but also the River Bacanuchi (64 kilometers in length), the River Sonora (190 kilometers long) and the El Molinito reservoir which stores 15.4 million cubic meters of water.

The contamination turned the waterways orange (see image) and affected the water supply of 24,000 people in seven communities along the rivers, forcing schools to close for several weeks while environmental authorities clean up the mess. More than 300 wells were shut down. The Sonora state government has been providing millions of liters of water via trucks to residents in the affected area. It has also started a temporary employment program to reactivate the local economy. The mining company has provided 13 million liters of water and $266,000 in immediate assistance to affected communities.

Some 800 mine workers, members of Mexico’s national mining and metallurgical workers union, blockaded the mine entrances in protest at the company’s failure to prevent the spill. Workers have been fighting over contracts since a strike in 2007.

The total clean-up costs are unknown, but likely to run into tens of millions of dollars.

On 18 August, Profepa filed a criminal complaint against Buenavista del Cobre and another Grupo México unit, Minera México, for their alleged roles in the spill. Grupo México could be fined up to 3.3 million dollars if the complaint is upheld.

Sonora State Governor Guillermo Padrés Elías has announced that the seven municipalities affected by the leached copper spill are filing a civil claim for damages.

Eight years ago in the northern state of Coahuila, an explosion in a coal mine belonging to Grupo México left 65 miners trapped underground; only two bodies were ever recovered.

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Sep 082014
 

In mid-August 2014, this significant fissure (see image) appeared near the city of Hermosillo in northern Mexico, with some press reports opting for headlines such as “The Earth Splits Open”:

fissure-hermosillo-eyewitness-news

While many press reports, especially those in English, tried to link this fissure to faulting and earthquake movements, others were more cautious, saying it was caused by movement of water underground followed by subsidence. Which version is correct? Probably neither is completely correct, since geography often fails to provide a single, definitive reason for things!

The crack is about 1000 meters (two thirds of a mile) long and up to 7 or 8 meters wide and 10 meters deep. While some press reports erroneously claimed that the crack extended across the main, paved, highway #26 between Hermosillo and the coast, its location was actually some distance away from the main highway. The road shown in the image above is a rural, unpaved road about 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Hermosillo, in an area of farmland, some of which is irrigated.

Could the fissure have been formed by faulting associated with earth tremors or an earthquake? If this was the cause, the fence line, and the line taken by the road would have shifted position and no longer be straight. The image clearly shows that the road has been severed, but provides no evidence that the two sides have shifted position. Indeed, a close-up view confirms that even the existing fence remains in place:

fissure-hermosillo-fence-line

The available evidence therefore rules out faulting (or earth tremors or earthquakes) as the cause of the crack.

Could the fissure have been caused by an underground flow of water followed by subsidence (the collapse of overlying rocks)? This certainly looks more likely though it is hard to imagine significant underground flows of water in an area that is as flat as this. On the other hand, this is (a) an area of newly constructed irrigation ditches and ponds, and (b) it received heavy rainfall a few days before the crack was reported.

In all probability, the fissure began as a deep but very narrow “subsidence fissure” where differences in irrigation (or in water extraction) caused some parts to be much wetter than others. The soil and rock particles in wetter areas would tend to expand, while those in drier areas would tend to contract. Such differences could lead to the formation of small initial fissures.

Once the fissure had been started, localized heavy rains and the resulting overland flow could then result in streams flowing (temporarily) in these initial fissures. The moving stream water would rapidly widen and deepen the fissures into the scale of crack shown in the photos. The initial fissure may have been formed several years before this widening process occurred.

For a more detailed look at the evidence for this fissure’s formation (and its true location), see Debunked: The Earth Splitting Open – Giant Crack in Mexico.

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Sep 062014
 

Hundreds of thousands of dead fish have washed up on the shores of Lake Cajititlán in Jalisco in the past ten days.

Lake Cajititlán is about 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) long and 2 km wide. It is mid-way between the city of Guadalajara and Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest natural lake. Fortunately, Lake Cajititlán does not have an outlet, so water and fish from the lake can not enter other nearby streams or lakes.

Map of Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico

Map of Lake Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico. Credit: Tony Burton; all rights reserved.

According to government officials, about 3 million dead popoche chub (Algansea popoche) with a combined weight of 82 metric tons were removed from Lake Cajititlán in the latest ecocide.

Initial reports contained conflicting versions of events, with local fishermen claiming far higher losses than government officials. The currently accepted figure of 82 metric tons suggests that the fishermen’s estimate was far closer to reality than the early “official” figures.

cajititlan-ecocide

(AFP Photo / Hector Guerrero)

Local authorities at first tried to persuade residents that the die-off was part of a “natural cycle”. However, this idea was quickly dispelled by state and federal agencies who are continuing investigations to establish the precise causes of the ecocide. Their preliminary technical studies have confirmed that the die-off of fish was due to contaminated water with dissolved oxygen levels well below the limits for a healthy fish population. The contamination appears to originate from raw sewage entering the lake and the inefficient operation of the existing sewage treatment plants.

Low oxygen levels could also result from seasonal rainy season runoff washing excess fertilizers into the lake, increasing the water’s nitrogen and phosphorus loads, promoting eutrophication.

State authorities have issued an environmental emergency alert for the lake, but have consistently maintained that the event has not endangered the health of local residents.

This is the fourth fish kill affecting Lake Cajititlán in 2014. This latest ecocide is only one of several ecological disasters that have befallen Mexico in recent weeks.

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Sep 032014
 

The Mexico City Benito Juárez International Airport handled 31.5 million passengers in 2013, but is operating at near capacity. To ease its congestion, the federal Communications and Transportation Secretariat (SCT) has announced plans to expand the airport eastwards, by annexing 5500 hectares of adjacent federal land bordering Lake Texcoco. The expansion will take several years to complete.

A long-term 9.2-billion-dollar master plan for the airport, with two main phases of construction, was developed by engineering consultancy Arup.

Earlier this week during his second state-of-the-nation address, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that the winning proposal for designing the new terminal building that forms an integral part of the first phase was submitted by UK-based architect Sir Norman Foster and his Mexican associate Fernando Romero, Carlos Slim’s son-in-law, in association with Netherlands Airports Consultants.

Peña Nieto described the new airport as “the biggest infrastructure project in recent years… and one of the biggest in the world.” He emphasized that his administration was not adopting the easiest short-term path, but “choosing the responsible path”, adding that a project of this scale would inevitably extend well beyond his time in office.

He expected that the new airport would boost tourism, allow more airlines to serve Mexico City, and also help to regenerate an area that has previously suffered severe environmental degradation.

The winning design for the iconic new terminal (see video) takes the shape of an “X”, incorporates national symbols in its details, and offers ample space for airport operations, passenger services and exhibitions. The architect is confident that the new airport will be the most sustainable airport in the world, and exceed LEED platinum standards, the highest level of LEED certification.

The first stage, due to be concluded by 2020, involves construction of a new terminal building, control tower and all the infrastructure for operating two runways simultaneously, handling up to 50 million passenger movements a year. Initial work on drainage and foundations will begin later this year. The first phase will generate an estimated 50,000 direct jobs and 160,000 jobs in total.

By 2050, a second phase would have added four more runways and more than doubled the airport’s capacity to 120,000 million passenger movements.

Record passenger levels in Mexican airports

During the first five months of 2014, Mexico’s airports registered 26,797,688 passenger movements (about 45% international, 55% national), a new record, and 10.8% more that for the same period in 2013. Aeroméxico, the nation’s flagship carrier, accounted for 35.3% of all passenger movements in Mexico, followed by Interjet (23.4%), Volaris (23.3%) and VivaAerobus (12.5%). Aeroméxico recently added several new routes, including links from the northern industrial city of Monterrey to Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosí, Cancún, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos.

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Sep 012014
 

It is surprisingly difficult to give a single, definitive response to this seemingly simple question, so in 2008, Arturo Ruiz-Luna and a group of researchers set out to answer the question once and for all, by taking a close look at the available data and its reliability.

The first challenge is to define precisely what counts as “an area of mangroves”. Since the edges of any one type of vegetation tend to merge gradually into the next, the boundaries between types are often not clear or discrete. The second challenge is to find comparable maps or records of the extent of mangroves in former times. In many cases, earlier maps were based on simple aerial photography as opposed to the more sophisticated satellite imagery available today. Equally, studies relying on different technology may produce quite different results.

Ruiz-Luna and his colleagues concluded that there was a high degree of uncertainty over the true extent of mangrove cover in Mexico and over the rates of mangrove depletion.  The unreliability stemmed from the very different estimates of mangrove cover given in earlier studies.

Opposition to mangrove destructon

Opposition to the destruction of mangroves, Cancún climate summit, 2010

They found that the earliest estimate of the extent of mangroves in Mexico, made in 1973, was 700,000 ha (1.7 million acres). From 1980-1991, a figure of 660,000 ha was widely quoted. This is thought to have been derived from the previous figure using a linear regression to include estimated deforestation rates.

On the other hand, a study in 1992, based on 1:3,800,000 scale maps, arrived at an areal extent of 932,800 ha. A 1993 government estimate, based on satellite imagery and supporting ground survey, came up with a figure of 721,554 ha. A 1994 estimate, also using satellite data, arrived at a similar figure.

Since 2000, estimates vary from a low of 440,000 ha (based on deforestation rates and linear regression) to a high of 955,866 (almost all of it mangrove, with a small area of secondary mangrove succession).

According to Ruiz-Luna and his co-authors, it is therefore likely that the true value of the extent of mangroves lies somewhere between 600,000 and 900,000 ha, with the authors plumping for 800,000 ha as a reasonable estimate.

Why are mangroves lost?

Mangrove habitats are lost due to damage (deforestation) from logging and land use changes. Examples of land use changes adversely affecting the extent of mangroves are:

  • the conversion of mangroves to harbors, as in Manzanillo (Colima)
  • mangroves being converted for hotels and tourist use (Cancún)
  • mangrove swamps being reassigned for aquaculture (San Blas)

The loss of mangroves can also result from changes to hydrological systems on the landward side of the mangroves. For example, when an artificial channel was opened in the 1970s in Cuautla (Nayarit) to connect the Marismas Nacionales with the sea, the channel was originally about 50m wide. It is now about 600m wide in the middle, and more than 1000m wide at its mouth, due to damage caused by the river flow, and from the greater exposure of mangroves to higher salinity water, as well as increased mangrove mortality from storms and hurricanes.

While there are some small-scale projects to replant mangroves in some tourist area, this is unlikely to be a good substitute for the original mature mangrove ecosystem. This is why Geo-Mexico is happy to help publicize public protests against mangrove destruction, such as the one pictured above which took place at the Cancún climate summit in 2010.

Reference:

Arturo Ruiz-Luna, Joanna Acosta-Velázquez, César A. Berlanga-Robles. 2008. “On the reliability of the data of the extent of mangroves: A case study in Mexico.” Ocean and Coastal Management 51 (2008) 342-351.

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Aug 302014
 

Diana Kennedy is the world’s foremost authority on regional Mexican cuisines. Born in the UK, she moved to Mexico in 1957 with her husband, Paul Kennedy, a New York Times correspondent. Over the next half a century, Kennedy traveled the length and breadth of Mexico, collecting stories, cooking techniques and recipes, and writing about regional cuisines from all over the country.

kennedy-cuisines-of-mexicoHer first cookbook The Cuisines of Mexico was published in 1972 and quickly became a classic. She has written several other books about Mexican cuisine, including

Now in her nineties, Kennedy continues to live in an eco-friendly house in s small village near the city of Zitácuaro in the western Mexico state of Michoacán. The Mexican government awarded her the Aztec Eagle, Mexico’s highest award for non-Mexicans, for her truly outstanding contribution to the country.

In this recent BBC radio podcast, Diana Kennedy is interviewed about her lifetime’s work, including the thousands of hours spent driving along dusty dirt tracks in her pick up truck in search of yet another unrecorded gem of Mexican cuisine.

Her travels often took her to indigenous villages, way off the beaten track, where she would study how and what the local people cooked, discovering along the way, all kinds of things never previously written about.

Podcast (mp3 file) of BBC Radio 4 Food Programme about Diana Kennedy :

 

The initial leads for the next trip often came from the maids of friends in Mexico City, maids who were prepared to share their family recipe secrets with her.

Kennedy documented varieties of corn and beans that are rapidly disappearing, as are the small family farms where they were grown. In most locations, she would start by exploring the local market. Marveling over the incredible fresh produce she encountered wherever she traveled, she recorded every detail; sadly, some of these markets have long since disappeared.

The “Mexican miracle” of the 1960s and 1970s, with its growing economic prosperity brought a tide of imported foods into Mexico. These reached deep into the countryside. In many places, traditional foods were forgotten, replaced by imported items such as wheat bread and pork chops.

Dietary changes have continued to plague Mexico, leading to a dramatic increase in obesity. Note, though, that despite the claims made on this BBC program, Mexico does not yet lead the world in obesity – though it is the fourth most obese country in the world (excluding small island states). Clearly, BBC researchers should read Geo-Mexico more often.

Kennedy’s 1972 book, The Cuisines of Mexico was a ground-breaking look at the regional world of food in Mexico. UNAM, Mexico’s National University, is keeping Kennedy’s work alive by making digital copies of all her notebooks, some of which date back to the 1950s.

For more about Mexican cuisine, visit the amazing award-winning blog Mexico Cooks! and also browse the huge selection of recipes, articles and tips about all aspects of Mexican food and cooking in the “Cuisine” section of MexConnect. ¡Buen provecho!

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Aug 282014
 

In numerous previous posts, we have looked at the importance of tourism in Mexico, and have examined its impacts at different scales, from the national/international scale at one extreme to the single resort scale at the other:

National scale:

Sub-national regional scale:

Single resort scale

We have also considered the way in which the characteristics of tourism in a resort change over time:

Attempting to quantify the importance or impacts of tourism, beneficial or otherwise, is fraught with methodological difficulties. The number of hotel rooms in different cities is often used as a proxy measure of the relative importance of tourism in different communities, but looking only at tourist capacity “masks  the fact that hotels are rarely full. In 2007, the national occupancy rate was 54.8%. Traditional beach resorts such as Acapulco, Mazatlán and Puerto Vallarta had an occupancy rate of 52.2%, compared to 68.1% for modern, planned mega-resorts like Cancún and Los Cabos. The occupancy rate in the large cities—Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey—was 55.0%, well ahead of the 47.2% for other interior cities.” (Geo-Mexico, p 134).

As in other branches of geography, it is not only the “reality” that matters, but also people’s perceptions of reality. Most decisions concerning location (such as where to live, the best place to start a new business. etc) are taken on imperfect or incomplete information; in other words, these decisions are based, at least to some extent, on perceptions.

In the case of tourism, it is the perception of visitors that matters. This is precisely why certain resorts gain a reputation as being “jet set” or the “in place” to vacation. The “in place” today is not going to be the “in place” in a few year’s time, since perceptions (and reality) change. Nowhere has this proved to be more true in Mexico than in the case of Acapulco.

But is it possible to measure tourist perceptions? It is very difficult to do so directly, but there are ways of tackling this question, and here we look at one approach, based on an analysis of tourist-oriented literature.

The approach is easiest to explain in the context of a real example, in this case an analysis of the likely perception of foreign tourists of destinations in the Lerma-Chapala drainage basin in Mexico. (This study formed part of my contribution on tourism to the Atlas de la cuenca Lerma-Chapala, construyendo una visión conjunta, Semarnat-Unam-IE, 2006 – the link is to a low-resolution pdf of the entire atlas).

The Lerma-Chapala Basin (see map) is one of Mexico’s major river systems, comprising portions of 127 municipalities in five states: México, Querétaro, Michoacán, Guanajuato and Jalisco. The basin has considerable economic importance. It occupies only 2.9% of Mexico’s total landmass, but is home to 9.3% of Mexico’s total population, and its economic activities account for 11.5% of national GDP. It also has considerable importance for tourism.

Lerma Basin Tourist Perception Index.

Lerma Basin Tourist Perception Index. Cartography: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico; all rights reserved Click to enlarge.

The red circles superimposed on the map represent an index of tourism perception. This index is based on an analysis of seven tourist guides that purport to cover the entire country:

  • AAA Tourbook (2004)
  • Let’s Go Mexico (2004)
  • Lonely Planet (2002)
  • Footprint Guide (1999)
  • Upclose Mexico (1998)
  • Insight Guide (1994)
  • Cadogan Guide (1991)

In each case, the total number of lines of text in the guide devoted to any location within the Lerma-Chapala drainage basin was counted, as well as the number of lines devoted to each individual location. This allowed a ratio or percentage to be worked out for each place for each book. For example, if a book had 240 lines in total devoted to the drainage basin, of which 60 were devoted to San Miguel de Allende, the perception index for San Miguel for that book would be 60/240 * 100 = 25%. Similar calculations were performed for all the locations mentioned, for each book, and then the mean index was calculated for each location. These mean indices were the basis for the size of the circles on the map.

In broad terms, the map shows which places are likely to be on a foreign traveler’s radar when they are visiting the area. Those familiar with this area may be surprised to see that the ghost town of Pozos merits as many lines of text as Quiroga (and indeed more lines of text than Atotonilco). Another surprise is that Tzintzuntzan appears to be as much in the tourist eye as Chapala, Dolores Hidalgo or Toluca. The main purpose of this post is not to analyse such apparent anomalies but only to suggest a relatively easy way of analysing tourist perceptions through the use of tourist-oriented literature. Applying the same method to the entire country, on a state-by-state basis, throws up far more interesting anomalies which we plan to share at some point in the future.

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Aug 252014
 

Two wastewater treatment plants have been in the news recently. The first is the $230 million Agua Prieta wastewater treatment plant, located north of Guadalajara in Jalisco, which was formally inaugurated last month. It is the first stage in a plan to restore the heavily polluted Santiago River back to health. The Santiago is the outflow from Lake Chapala and receives pollutants from the industrial zone of El Salto outside Guadalajara. The initial capacity of the Agua Prieta plant is 6,500 liters/second, almost all of which is returned to the river after treatment.

The plant was built by a consortium led by ICA subsidiary Conoisa, Atlatec, and Servicios de Agua Trident under a 20-year concession. President Enrique Peña Nieto claims on his government webpage that, “Integrated, sustainable water management is a government priority. The challenge is even greater because almost 50% of the wastewater returned to the environment does not undergo any form of treatment… The Agua Prieta Wastewater Treatment Plant in Zapopan… [will] improve the quality of life of 3.3 million inhabitants in the metropolitan area of Guadalajara… It will treat 82% of the wastewater in the area, and 100% when the complementary sewage works are completed.”

agua-prieta-wastewater-According to government figures, waste water treatment coverage at the national level is currently 50.3%, with a 2018 target of 63%. Agua Prieta has raised national coverage to 53.3%, and will boost it to 54.3% once the plant is operating at full capacity and treating 8,500 liters/second of wastewater. At the state level, Jalisco is now treating 32% of its wastewater.

The Agua Prieta plant is currently the largest of its kind in Mexico and is powered by biogas derived from the wastewater sludge. However, an even larger plant is under construction, in the state of Hidalgo in central Mexico. The Atotonilco Wastewater Treatment Plant is being built by a consortium, including Mexican construction companies ICA and IDEAL, Mitsui subsidiary Atlatec and Spanish firm Acciona Agua, that won the concession to design, build, and operate this plant for 22 years, at which point the plant will be transferred to federal ownership. Work began in 2010 and is due to be completed by 2015.

The Atotonilco Wastewater Treatment Plant will be the largest wastewater plant in Latin America and one of the largest in the world, with a biological treatment capacity of 23,000 liters/second (1.99 million m3/day). The wastewater treatment is performed by a series of conventional processes, with an additional chemical process during the rainy season. Treated waters from this plant are already being used in agriculture without any additional cleaning steps. The plant is self-sufficient in terms of energy usage, since it converts the methane offgas from the wastewater sludge into electrical energy.

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