The AZTI-Tecnalia technological centre, experts in food research, have put a biogas plant into operation in order to investigate novel systems of sustainable energy production based on the use of waste and sub-products from the food industry. This new plant exploits the enormous potential of obtaining biogas from the organic matter contained in agricultural food waste, and will help the food industry to reduce the environmental impact caused by organic waste.
The plant, located at the AZTI-Tecnalia premises in Derio, aims to obtain biogas rich in methane by the process of anaerobic digestion* of the organic material contained in the sub-products from food, in order to transform it into electrical and heat energy. In the same way, for 2010, the technological centre foresees adapting the plant and making a commitment to that renewable source of energy which has seen the greatest surge in recent years: hydrogen. So, the aim is to be able to obtain hydrogen and methane from the same combined fermentation process.
AZTI-Tecnalia specialists are thus researching the viability of obtaining benefit from a number of agricultural food sub-products, alone or in combination (co-digestion) with other elements from various sources, such as sludge from purifying plants or food waste from mass consumption. Amongst others are mixtures from animal husbandry silage (purines), together with waste from agricultural food industries (leftovers from fruit and vegetable markets, milk whey, fish ends, aquaculture waste, etc.
With the biogas plant it is possible to reduce the environmental impact caused by organic waste. The emissions of greenhouse effect gases into the atmosphere are reduced, smells are considerably reduced and the final value of the waste is enhanced, As a consequence, the industry can adapt itself to environmental and social requisites, at the same time as its processes are more efficient through making better use of available resources.
The plant is available to government bodies and to food enterprises and environmental services who are interested in developing R+D projects applied to the energy valuation of food sub-products, with the aim of obtaining information for decision-making in the installation of this kind of plant at an industrial scale.
AZTI-Tecnalia is supporting the food industry in sustainable development, implementing measures to enhance its environmental performance. The biogas plant complements the activities undertaken by the centre at its food processing pilot plant, in which valuation trials of sub-products as new sources of raw materials for transformed foodstuffs are also carried out. Likewise, more profitable and innovative options are being sought in order to manage subproducts and waste generated by the food industry and studies of the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of the products are undertaken, analysing where the main costs and environmental impacts lie, and proposing, in consequence, situations for the enhancement and optimisation of the process.
* Anaerobic digestion is a biological process which transforms organic material into biogas and into a digested sludge, which can be used as organic enhancement in agricultural applications. Biogas mainly consists of carbon dioxide and methane, the latter with a high calorific value and which, thereby, can be used as a renewable source of electrical and/or thermal energy, or as a fuel for vehicles.
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