An exciting project to convert food and farming waste into renewable energy has received backing from the Food and Drink iNet.

Sutton-in-Ashfield firm Lindhurst Engineering, scientists at The University of Nottingham, dairy products co-operative Arla Foods and treatment systems company Clearfleau are working together to refine a technology which produces renewable energy from farm and dairy industry effluent.

Named Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC), the technology has been developed to help farmers and dairy producers to dispose of waste water and slurry, and at the same time harvest energy which can be re-used on their sites.

Trials have proved that the system works and now the team has been awarded funding from a number of sources, including the Food and Drink iNet, which has given the project a £154,000 grant to develop a pre-treatment process to enable the Microbial Fuel Cell to take solid food waste as well as waste water.

Pilot testing is being undertaken at dairy and farm sites over the next two years to develop a commercially viable and affordable production model. Meanwhile, the iNet’s contribution will focus on looking at how the process can also be used to harness energy from the different types of waste produced during food manufacturing.

Testing will be carried out with selected food manufacturers that produce a range of different food waste products, before three large-scale trials later this year.

“This project has tremendous potential for the food and drink sector, as the disposal of food waste can be a costly affair,” said Food and Drink iNet director Richard Worrall. “If the waste can be disposed of easily on-site, and at the same time create hydrogen which can be turned into electricity, it’s a win, win situation.

“One of the Food and Drink iNet’s roles is to support collaborative research projects that have potential benefits for the sector, and this fits the bill perfectly.”

As well as investment by the companies involved, the development has also received funding from the government’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB), involving a two-year KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership).

“With the grant monies we have received through the Food and Drink iNet we will be able to involve a diverse range of manufacturers in this sector,” said Martin Rigley, managing director at Lindhurst Engineering. “This will give us chance to trial our technology on a range of waste food products and enable us to tailor our system to various waste streams. In addition to the funding, the access to market the iNet can provide will be invaluable to us, communicating our technology to a wider audience.

“The ultimate objective is to have a cost-effective way of releasing the inherent energy contained within waste at source. This will lead to cost savings in handling the waste with the added advantage of a payback from the energy released.”

Current methods of dealing with the organic content in industrial effluent are costly and waste the potential energy contained within it. MFC, however, is able to harness the energy – hydrogen rich bio-gas – using a series of anodes and cathodes.

It needs only bacteria to convert the slurry or dairy by-products into carbon dioxide, water and energy.

After trialling the technology last year in a one cubic metre capacity pilot plant, the team has calculated that a larger production scale sized cell will be able to supply a farm with a large proportion of its annual energy needs if fed with slurry from 200 cows.

Now the team is also turning its attention to how the technology could be used to help food manufacturers to dispose of food waste and create energy at the same time. They are currently looking at the different types of food waste produced by food manufacturers during processing with the aim of developing a pre-treatment system to transform solid food waste into a suitable consistency for the MFC.

This will be followed by trialling with a number of manufacturers to look at commercial viability of the MFC and pre-treatment process, along with analysis of how much energy and bio fuel would be created and the cost savings incurred from the type and volume of waste the business generates.

Part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), The Food and Drink iNet co-ordinates innovation support for businesses, universities and individuals working in the food and drink sector in the East Midlands. It has developed an effective network to encourage the collaboration of academic expertise and knowledge, and local food and drink business innovation needs.

It aims to build on the tradition of innovation in the food and drink industry in the region by helping to create opportunities to develop knowledge and skills, and to help research, develop and implement new products, markets, services and processes.

The Food and Drink iNet is managed by a consortium, led by The Food and Drink Forum and including Nottingham Trent University, The University of Lincoln, and The University of Nottingham. It is based at Southglade Food Park, Nottingham, with advisors covering the East Midlands region.

Issued by Nottingham PR company Perfect 10 PR