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Biogas2PEM-FC project converts waste from olive oil production to electricity

An EU-funded project, Biogas2PEM-FC, has developed a system to convert the toxic waste from olive oil production into electricity. The project, coordinated by Nordic fuel cell technology company PowerCell, resulted in the building of a complete pilot plant on an olive farm in Andalucía, Spain. The two-year project was completed in October.

The waste from olive oil production—which contains pesticides and toxic organic compounds, is acidic and with a high salinity—is environmentally harmful and costly to discard. Currently the waste is turned to landfill; this is very costly and can become a major environmental problem.

The goal of the project has been to develop a technology to convert waste from the olive oil production into electricity. A three-part subsystem was developed; the primary step is an anaerobic digestion reaction to produce biogas from the olive mill waste; the second step is a reformer to convert the biogas to a hydrogen rich gas (reformate); and the last step is to pass the reformate gas to a fuel cell system to make electricity.

The focus of the project has been the research and development of technologies in the various subsystems and a complete plant has been built and is now demonstrated on an olive farm in Andalucía in Spain.

With this concept we solve two problems at once. We deplete toxic waste while producing electricity and heat on a small-scale, environmentally friendly way, without any harmful emissions. This solution has a very high potential. It is estimated that up to 30 million cubic meters of wastewater is produced annually, during a three to four-month period, on an olive oil plant, water that can be used in biogas production. The technology developed in this project can also be used with other agricultural waste.

—Per Ekdunge, Project Coordinator, and Vice President and CTO of PowerCell Sweden AB

The partners in the Biogas2PEM-FC project are:

  • Power Cell, Sweden AB (publ), Sweden
  • Royal Institute of Technology, KTH, Sweden
  • Idener, Spain
  • Leitat, Spain
  • Helbio, Greece
  • Marches Biogas Ltd, Shropshire, UK
  • INGENOSTRUM, Spain
  • FAECA (Andalusian Federation of Agrarian Cooperatives), Spain

Comments

Engineer-Poet

Nothing about cost.

If the wastes can be turned into bio-gas (and the salt and pesticides don't impair the bacterial digestion), there are certainly cheaper ways of making electricity than driving a PEM FC.  A bog-standard piston engine will do.  If the salts are from the olives and not added during processing, they can probably be recycled to the soil.  Otherwise, they might be purified by filtration, crystallization and evaporation (solar power?) and recycled to the processing step.

HarveyD

This is an early attempt to convert olive wastes (and other agriculture wastes) into useful bio-gas and H2 that can be stored and converted to clean electricity and fertilizer.

Of course, bio-gas and electricity produced will be more costly but not if positive environmental effects are fully considered.

A cleaner environment has great value.

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