Turning olive oil waste into energy to benefit rural economies

Olio Officina

EU-funded researchers convert into heat olive oil waste and electricity to facilitate a profitable and sustainable agricultural production. A pilot plant that converts toxic waste from olive oil into heat and electricity was built on an olive farm in Andalusia. The plant, established in the BIOGAS2PEM-FC project European funding, was completed in November 2014 and promises to bring economic and environmental benefits to a region of Spain predominantly agricultural and underdeveloped a industrial viewpoint.

The biggest challenge is to manage the olive oil waste which is harmful to the environment and expensive. As part of a non-organic farming, these wastes contain pesticides and toxic organic compounds; they are acidic and salinity is high.

The BIOGAS2PEM-FC project has sought to develop an innovative technology to convert waste from the production of electricity olive oil. A subsystem in three parts has been developed, the first step being an anaerobic digestion reaction to produce biofuel from waste. This process involves microorganisms that break down biodegradable materials devoid of oxygen, is often used to manage waste and produce fuel. Anaerobic digestion has become an attractive method to regard the treatment of solid waste, because the process provides excellent waste stabilization and recovery of energy without any pretreatment of the residue. The second step involved the conversion of the biomass fuel into a hydrogen-rich gas, which in the final phase can be transformed into electricity through the use of fuel cells. They convert chemical energy into electricity from fuel through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. The three stages were collected to create a complete installation of waste treatment in order to generate heat and electricity to power the olive press.

The researchers responsible for the project, which received funding of € 1.1 million under the FP7 program, are sure that innovation will have a positive impact on the production of olive oil. It is estimated that an average of olive oil mill produces up to 30 million cubic meters of waste water in intense production period which lasts between three and four months. These wastewater could be used to produce biofuels.

A final meeting of the project was held in Malaga in October 2014 to review the achievements and visit the pilot plant itself. The end result is a modular, reliable, cost effective and efficient combining thermodynamics generating power distributed on site from agricultural waste. Furthermore, the technology could be applied to other forms of agricultural waste, which would open up a range of potential business opportunities.

Source: Onagri Tunisie

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