Olive oil waste to energy to provide electricity and heat to rural Spain

December 15, 2014 0 By Amanda Giasson

Researchers have found a way to convert toxic olive oil waste into energy.

According to CORDIS, at an olive farm in Andalucía, Spain, a pilot plant has been built that is capable of converting toxic olive waste to energy, more specifically into electricity and heat, which will provide environmental and economic benefits to a region in the country that is mostly underdeveloped industrially and agriculturally.

Green technology was used to deal with the costly and environmentally harmful disposal of waste produced from olive oil.

The BIOGAS2PEM-FC project, which was funded by the European Union (EU), was completed last month and the hope is that it will facilitate sustainable and agricultural production in a region of Spain where olive oil is vital to the economy.

Fifty percent (50%) of the World’s olive oil is produced in Spain and 73% of what is produced in the country comes from Andalucía. In 2013, olive oil exports from this region were valued at €1.5 billion.

However, the trouble with producing massive amounts of olive oil is that the waste produced from it needs to be dealt with, and it contains toxic organic compounds and pesticides, and also has high salinity and is acidic. Although this waste was taken to landfill, a more long-term sustainable solution was needed and that is where the BIOGAS2PEM-FC project came in.

Waste to Energy - Olive TreeThe plant that was built is a subsystem containing three parts, with the main part being an anaerobic digestion reaction. This is a process where biodegradable material is broken down by microorganisms in an oxygen-free environment, which produces biogas. The second part of the process involves transforming the biogas into hydrogen-rich gas, which, in the final stage, is converted into electricity.

The waste to energy plant generates electricity and heat for the olive mill.

The researchers behind the project are confident that the impact the project will have on olive oil production will be a positive one. It is approximated that as much as 30 million cubic meters of wastewater is produced by the average olive oil plant throughout the busiest production time of the year and this wastewater can be utilized to create biogas.

In addition, while the technology may eventually lead to other potential commercial opportunities, when applied to other types of agricultural waste, for now, the pilot waste to energy plant will provide efficient, cost-effective and reliable combined heat and power.