EU-funded researchers are converting olive oil waste into heat and electricity to facilitate cost-effective and sustainable agricultural production.
Leader of the market, Spain produces 73 percent of its olive oil in Andalusia. A growing market worth €1.5 billion per year. However, olive oil production generates waste, containing pesticides and toxic organic compounds, conventionally turned to landfill, which is not really sustainable on the long run. Meeting worldwide demand while achieving a sustainable production becomes vital.
That’s the problem BIOGAS2PEM-FC project aim at solving : how to deal with the environmentally harmful and costly disposal of olive oil waste?
A pilot plant capable of converting toxic olive oil waste into heat and electricity has been built at an olive farm in Andalusia. The facility, constructed through the EU-funded BIOGAS2PEM-FC project, was completed in November 2014 and promises to provide economic and environmental benefits to a predominantly agricultural and industrially underdeveloped region of Spain. A three-part subsystem was developed, the primary step being an anaerobic digestion reaction to produce biogas from the waste. The second step involved converting this biogas into a hydrogen-rich gas, which in the final phase could be turned into electricity through the use of fuel cells.
The three stages have now been brought together to create a complete waste processing plant to generate heat and electricity that can then be used by the olive mill.
Researchers behind the project are confident that the innovation will have a positive impact on olive oil production. It is estimated that an average olive oil plant produces up to 30 million cubic metres of wastewater during the intense annual three to four-month production period. This is wastewater that could be used to produce biogas. Furthermore the technology could be applied to other forms of agricultural waste, which would open up an array of potential commercial opportunities.