José Alfaro

Assistant Professor of Environmental Practice, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan

"Using Industrial Symbiosis at the Small-scale to Increase Communities' Sustainability and Well-being”


Waste-to-energy is considered as the bottom of the pyramid for disposal. Reduce, reuse, recycle are to take priority. However, for agricultural systems, the use of waste-to-energy through appropriate catalytic technologies could result in the best option generating circular economies. This is true particularly in an island context where the inputs and outputs of the economy have a higher cost of flow.

Our work explores the use of gasification technology to generate electricity from agricultural residues with biochar as a coproduct. The electricity is used to supplement solar micro-grids. The biochar is used as a soil amendment that can result in production improvements for farmers and carbon sequestration. This results in a circular economy that benefits farmers and reduces the cost of solar micro-grids, both in terms of initial capital investment and levelized cost of electricity.

The presentation will show two case studies, one in Puerto Rico with Casa Pueblo’s Energy Insurrection project in Adjuntas, and one with Kivu Green Energy in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo. Both cases show a significant reduction in levelized cost of electricity when compared to local utility prices and when compared to solar production alone while at the same time generating a significant economic flow for farmers.  


José Alfaro is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Practice at the University of Michigan's School for Environment and Sustainability. He has degrees in Chemical and Environmental Engineering and in Natural Resource Management and Policy. 

His scholarship revolves around three main efforts:

  1. Using Circular Economy at the small-scale to increase communities’ sustainability and well-being
  2. Deploying renewable energy for sustainable development of least industrialized countries, in particular using gasification of agricultural residues
  3. Developing tools for policy and decision-making through computer modeling of socio-technical systems

His work uses quantitative tools (such as Agent-Based Modeling, Life-Cycle Assessment and Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis), and design tools for community development while also having expertise in prototyping and deployment of new technologies.  His applied focus has led him to work closely with communities, industry, NGO’s, and government organizations. 

He is also the founder and faculty director of Sustainability Without Borders, an interdisciplinary organization that works with communities to develop ethical partnerships that enhance sustainability. This organization labors to provide students with a meaningful engaged experience that also increases the capacity of the communities and NGO’s it works with and increases their well-being.