Carolina Guerra
© Carolina Guerra
Laureate 2011 for Latin America

Carolina Guerra

Ingerecuperar, COLOMBIA

Ingerecuperar engineers eco-friendly solutions to turn hazardous wastes such as aluminium dross into useful products and raw materials.

www.ingerecuperar.com

As its name suggests – ‘inge’ for engineering, ‘recuperar’ for recovery – Ingerecuperar engineers solutions to recover waste. But not just any kind of waste, specifically the hazardous type. ‘First we research the best way to tackle the waste in question, then we apply the process to re-use it, on an industrial scale,’ says Carolina Guerra, a young materials engineer and Managing Director of the company, which she set up in 2007.

The idea for the business came from Carolina’s former job in a firm that generated aluminium dross, a common hazardous waste produced after aluminium is melted. ‘Despite our attempts to find a way to dispose of it all in an environmentally friendly manner, nobody in Colombia could provide one! Other firms have come up with solutions to recycle the metallic parts of the waste, but not the rest.’ Carolina decided to join forces with two colleagues to research how to make use of the dross in its entirety. ‘The results were excellent! Given how much aluminium dross is generated in our region, we saw a good opportunity for a useful business.’

Adding real value

So good, the young company has managed to clinch the only environmental licence in the country to use aluminium dross in recycling. When not recycled, it would end up in secure landfills, an expensive solution that does nothing to eliminate its environmental liability. ‘It costs up to US$550 per ton to dispose of securely, so some companies find less ethical solutions, others even give it away. We pay for it as a valuable commodity!’ says Carolina, who remains modest about her find. ‘Research in this field is quite slow here in Colombia, which gave us a competitive advantage.’

Clinching authorisation was no mean feat, however. ‘It took a great deal of patience to convince the authorities,’ states Carolina, ‘because this was such a novel solution here.’ It paid off: Ingerecuperar has 10 full-time employees and in 2010 recycled 195 tons of aluminium dross, a figure that doubled in the first half of 2011 alone. Items the company already produces from the resulting material, a form of cement, include blocks, benches, and fence posts.

Projects in the pipeline

With Colombia producing an estimated 500,000 tons of hazardous waste each year, Carolina has launched other avenues of research and engineered solutions for incinerator ash, found in furnaces that burn hospital waste, for example, and for ‘pipeline powder’ – the dust that is evacuated through industrial pipelines and gets collected in filters. ‘It’s very dangerous, because it’s full of heavy metals,’ Carolina explains. Does she have any other plans ‘in the pipeline’, so to speak? ‘Yes, we’re starting to look at how to make use of old batteries.’

It all sounds hazardous indeed and an unusual environment for a young woman, but Carolina is in her element. ‘It’s true that when you’re working with dirty waste you have to set aside some of your more feminine touches, but I’ve never felt affected by discrimination,’ she states. There was one time, however, when a supplier whose contract wasn’t renewed called up to convince them to reinstate him, but without making himself clear. ‘When I asked him to explain, he lost his temper and demanded to talk to the boss, saying he refused to justify himself to a secretary. Then he threatened to get me fired for being rude and hung up!’

Carolina is the perfect example of not letting appearances do the talking. Her work involves materials that many would shy away from, but which she embraces in her desire for innovation. ‘I’ve always wanted to run my own business,’ she says. ‘I’m inspired by companies like the Cirque du Soleil – how they took an age-old human entertainment and made it into something novel and unique. I think it’s wonderful.’ This fits in with her youthful dreams of becoming a musician, playing at festivals and strumming a guitar around a camp fire… with no hazardous ash.

About the project

What's new?

"When I attented the Women’s Forum and listened to two former Cartier Laureates talk about their experience, I can’t tell you how my heart lifted to feel I wasn’t alone. Forging that kind of community is a cornerstone to confidence and success”.

 

Since Carolina Guerra won the Award for Latin America, her eco-friendly company has been booming.
Aimed at turning hazardous waste such as aluminium dross into useful products and raw materials on an industrial scale, Ingerecuperar increased the volume of toxic waste treated and recycled by 50% in six months.

In 2014, they created a new set of products for treating ashes and metals and they have treated over 250.000 tons of dangerous residues.

It also developed new recycling processes for an extended range of wastes and created several new product lines including a form of cement, blocks, benches and fence posts.
This growth drove her to increase her staff by 33%, and she made contacts with investors from countries such as Dubai, India and Sweden. Carolina is now considering the opportunity of exporting aluminum pieces worldwide and planning their expansion on international markets. An international raise that Carolina attributes to the publicity and support from the Award, enabling her to also make contacts within the Colombian government.
Carolina has now transformed her company into a real corporation which has been relocated to a larger site and is initiating the formation of a new company for a production line.
Until now Ingerecuperar is the only one operating in this field in Colombia.

Carolina recently won the Destapa Futuro organized by the Red de Emprendedores de la Fundación Bavaria! Congratulations to Ingerecuperar's team!

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