Waste Erased: Top 7 EU-based industrial advances in utilizing waste residues

November 16, 2017 |

Europe pursuing biorefineries, power-gen based on advanced use of waste residues.

In Europe, the race to erase industrial and municipal waste is on, and now has taken on a more serious ardor with the arrival of some new tech.

For too long, ideas on dealing with waste have revolved around reduction and recycle rather than re-use. Yet, the death of waste, then, is a simple thing: have a use for every residue. It goes against the grain of our society’s advancement, which has been all about taking a waste fraction and finding a use for it.

To make the obvious point, much of Europe was considered a forest too dense for agriculture and civilization, until technology arrived that spurred food production. Petroleum was used to make lamp oil until other applications were found that utilized the lighter cuts — such as gasoline for auto transport.

The industrial ecosystem of Kalundborg, Denmark is based around the concept that one person’s effluent is another technology’s feedstock. Clustering, then, is one important key to unlocking the value of what has been thrown away as waste. But, having advanced technology that can tap that value, that’s the keystone in a robust attack on waste.

Several advances then, in the EU, are well worth noting.

#1. Bioplastics from waste: Europe’s URBIOFIN project

So, it’s news to note that the recently launched European URBIOFIN BBI-project will focus on converting the organic fraction of municipal solid waste on a semi-industrial scale. The project, that looks into the techno-economic and environmental feasibility will create chemical building blocks, biopolymers and/or additives using the biorefinery concept ‘urban biorefinery’. Ultimately, URBIOFIN offers a new feasible and more sustainable scenario alternative to the current treatment of the organic fraction of municipal solid waste. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research focuses on two specific topics in this project: the production of medium-chain length fatty acids and derived PHAs via microbial fermentation, and the scale-up, efficient extraction and novel commercial applications of these bioplastics.

As a building block for high quality products, sustainable fatty acids have interesting market applications says Hans Mooibroek, project manager at Wageningen Food & Biobased Research. “’In this project we are focusing on the conversion of fatty acids to PHAs. A key advantage of these microbial plastics is that they are produced from renewable resources and are completely bio-degradable. Our specific objective is to produce so-called medium chain length PHAs (mcl-PHAs), which are suitable for high value applications such as biodegradable agricultural plastics or biomaterials for the cosmetics industry.”

Two-step fermentation process

The production of PHAs occurs in stages, Mooibroek explains: “In the first step, we use short chain fatty acids from solid biomass and employ our intricate knowledge on fermentation technology. We put a yeast to work that converts the carbohydrates into longer chain fatty acids. We have a considerable track record on mcl-fatty acid production and mcl PHA-production using the yeast Cryptococcus curvatus and the soil bacterium Pseudomonas putida respectively. Both organisms grow well on a variety of agricultural side streams. In the URBIOFIN project both fermentation processes will be combined to produce mcl-PHAs efficiently.”

Transferring knowledge to commercial partners

URBIOFIN is a typical BBI demonstration project, Mooibroek explains: “We carry the technology that we develop in our lab on to partners who want to apply the process on an industrial scale. Together with our research partner AINIA from Valencia, which produces short chain fatty acids and PHAs from waste, we have recently visited another Spanish partner IRIAF/Clamber (providing upscaling services especially for research demo projects) to make sure that they have the knowledge and facilities for scaling up the fermentation and downstream processes.” Bringing the various PHAs to market is the task of commercial partners Stéfany Emballages Services (SES, France, packaging materials) and NaturePlast (France, supporting bioplastics applications development).

The 16 project partners in URBIOFIN are located in eight European countries, with Spanish engineering company IMECAL coordinating the project.

Learn more about URBIOFIN here.

#2. Power from waste: Arensis, University of Chester launch a new project

Meanwhile, a new joint research project recently launched by the University of Chester and Arensis  will trial a range of new waste feedstocks to feed into a decentralised clean energy power system at the University of Chester’s Thornton Science Park. The joint project will discover which waste materials — testing household waste, animal and agricultural matter and commercial wastes — can be redirected from landfill to create electricity and heat for commercial biomass.

With 185 power systems in operation across the country, Arensis currently delivers 85 percent of all small-scale biomass generation in the UK. Arensis also operates a sizeable biomass research institute at the Knowlsey Industrial Park near Liverpool.

The technology

The matter will be fed into an Entrade E3 biomass converter housed within a shipping container to study the output of the generated energy. The unit is on loan from Drax power plant where it has been testing wooden pellet feedstocks and can generate 25kW of electricity and 60kW of heat from a range of feedstock sources.  The research team will also be able to access more than 100 Entrade units that Arensis manages across its two Liverpool operations.

Advantages of using the Entrade units include the speed of set-up, with installation rapid enough for them to be up and running within hours. The units are also easily transported and are scalable, given the units are modular and can combined for greater capacity.

Heat and energy generated by the trial will be used in a clean energy microgrid, to explore the decentralised energy systems of the future.

More about Arensis here or via video on-demand, here. 

#3. Waste biomass to fuels, gas and biochar

In May, we reported that In Germany, twelve SME, industrial, and scientific partners, coordinated by Fraunhofer UMSICHT, are participating in a new ambitious research project named TO-SYN-FUEL which will build up, operate and demonstrate the production of Synthetic Fuels and Green Hydrogen from waste biomass. Building and extending from previous framework funding, the project is designed to set the benchmark for future sustainable development and growth within Europe and will provide a real example to the rest of the world of how sustainable energy, economic, social and environmental needs can successfully be addressed.

The TCR technology developed by Fraunhofer UMSICHT could be the solution. The thermo-catalytic reforming TCR produces renewable liquid fuels from waste biomass, which can replace fossil fuels. These fuels comply with European standards for gasoline and diesel EN228 and EN590, which have already been demonstrated on a pilot scale. The TCR technology converts all kinds of residual biomass into three main products: H2-rich synthesis gas, biochar and liquid bio-oil, which can be upgraded. By high pressure hydro-deoxygenation HDO and conventional refining processes, a diesel or petrol equivalent is created in the distillation and is ready to be used directly in internal combustion engines.

EU-funded project seeks to demonstrate synthetic fuels and green H2 from waste biomass

#4. Dairy waste for fuels

In February we reported that in the UAE, after two years of research into new and improved ways to create biofuels, Neutral Fuels has become the first company to successfully use butter, cream and ghee waste as a feedstock for creating commercial biofuel. Importantly, the new fuel is of the same high quality as the vegetable oil-derived biofuel that Neutral Fuels has become renowned for and which has fuelled McDonald’s UAE’s logistics fleet for almost seven million kilometres over the past four years. It is equally European standards compliant, so customers won’t notice any difference.

Neutral Fuels successfully uses dairy waste to produce biofuels

#5. Waste oils for fuels

Last August, we reported that In the UK, an international consortium led by Argent Energy has secured $2.2 million from Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) pilot scheme under Horizon2020 to recover waste oil and fats and then demonstrate cheaper, better, faster biodiesel production. Argent Energy was the country’s first large-scale commercial biodiesel producer and uses tallow as well as used cooking oil for most of its feedstock. The company’s biodiesel production facility near Motherwell, Scotland produces 50 million liters of fuel annually.

Argent Energy scores $2.2 million for EU-funded UCO and waste fats biodiesel demo

#6. Capturing Waste CO2 to make Solar Fuels

Solar fuels? They’ve been much thought about, and occasionally big chunks of work have been funded privately or publicly. If we can convert solar energy directly via a photovoltaic route we can make use of about ± 20% solar energy capture as the basis for liquid solar ”fuels instead of first producing biomass with ± 1-2% solar energy capture using plants. We wrote about this technological tip of the spear recently, here.

ANTECY has been working on this route since 2010, and reports now that “We have now come to the conclusion that it is technically and economically feasible, making use of electrolysis to produce hydrogen from solar (or wind, hydroelectric or geothermal) energy and converting the hydrogen produced with clean and concentrated carbon dioxide to methanol or any other (preferably) liquid hydrocarbon.

A smart, faster path to Zero Lifecycle Emission: advances from the EU in direct carbon capture from air

#7. Waste oils, fats, greases for bioplastics and jet fuel: Neste’s new R&D thrust

In June, we reported that Neste is putting a large amount of resources into research on waste and residue raw materials. In addition to biofuels, also bioplastics can be produced from waste and residues in the future. The company is also focusing its raw materials research on waste plastics as a substitute for crude oil in the manufacture of oil products.

The idea of “one’s waste is a valuable raw material to another” is central to the circular economy, and, for over a decade, it has inspired Neste’s development and production of renewable fuels. The company already produces enough Neste MY Renewable Diesel, produced of waste and residues, to power more than two million cars for a year. This will enable Neste’s customers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by almost 7 million tons this year. Underpinning this progress is the company’s patented NEXBTL technology for refining low-quality waste fats into high-quality, fully renewable fuel. The same technology can be used to produce other renewable products also, such as renewable aviation fuel and raw material for bioplastics.

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