New marketplace for anaerobic digestion sector

Prof Tom Curran, Agrocycle project Co-ordinator and Assistant Professor in Biosystems and Food engineering at UCD, with Agrocycle Kids Kate (age 12), Liam (age 10) and Kate (age 14) from Sligo with ‘edible straws’ and drinking cups made from potato pulp. Photo: Conor McCabe Photography.

Agrocycle Marketplace is a new website where farmers and food producers can sell their food-waste and agricultural waste to biogas energy producers and other users across Europe.

The Agrocycle project is led by Dr Tom Curran, Assistant Professor in Biosystems and Food Engineering at UCD, who says there is huge potential in Ireland to use bio-digester machines to convert agricultural waste or food waste into heat and electricity.

“Of the 1.3 billion tonnes of waste generated in Europe each year, 700 million tonnes come from agri-food waste. This level of waste is no longer sustainable.

“That’s why Agrocycle has developed many new products and technologies to give agri-food waste a new purpose,” said Dr Curran.

Many organisations need agri-waste and food-waste, such as owners of biodigester machines (to convert waste into biogas energy), livestock feed producers, and companies developing new products which add value to such residues.

In recent years, bio-digestion or anaerobic digestion (AD) has become a popular diversification for farmers and food producers, as the extra income can subsidise other parts of the business.

A bio-digester is a machine that converts agricultural waste into energy, helping reduce carbon emissions from agricultural waste.

Farmers, for example, take manure from the farm, and put it into the machine’s tank; micro-organisms digest it, and produce biogas which is used to generate electricity or heat.

There are about 150 bio-digester devices in Ireland, both north and south of the border. These machines need waste to generate biogas.

AgroCycle Marketplace can play a role in connecting waste suppliers and users.

In 2014, there were an estimated 31 AD biogas plants in the Republic of Ireland, including three agricultural plants, 14 sewage plant facilities, seven industrial landfills, and seven waste or industrial waste biogas plants.

Their cumulative capacity amounted to 47 MW, generating 206 GWh of electricity in 2014, while 8.1 ktoe of thermal energy were generated respectively. Twelve facilities are licensed by the Department of Agriculture as utilising animal by-products as a feedstock, with most of them attached to pig or poultry farms.

In the dairy industry, anaerobic digesters are used to treat wastewater, producing biogas which can be used for heating in processing plants.

One of the largest such plants is at Dairygold Co-Op, and it treats 27,000kg of wastewater per day.

Academic and industry research findings suggest potential for a significant role in the heat and transport sectors for biogas produced by anaerobic digestion.

The online Agrocycle waste trading platform is one of the sustainability products developed by the €7m EU-China Horizon 2020 research and innovation project which addresses recycling and valorisation of waste from the agri-food sector.

Led by the UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering, the project involves 26 partners, from eight EU countries, along with two partners from mainland China, and one from Hong Kong.

Also involved in Ireland are NUI Maynooth and Manor Farm Chickens in Co Cavan.

Agrocycle has also developed and hopes to commercialise products to help reduce plastic, such as edible straws (made from rice bran or rice husk), cups and flower pots made from potato pulp, and an alternative to ice-cream, called rice-cream.

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