Recycling and Valorization of Agri-Food Waste

AgroCycle is a Sino-EU collaborative research and innovation venture on the application of the ‘circular economy’ across the agri-food industry.

The project has 26 partners from across the EU, China and Hong Kong, and is funded through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, with additional funding from the governments of the People’s Republic of China. The project is led by University College Dublin (School of Biosystems and Food Engineering). The 36-month project (which started in June 2016) aims to reduce waste whilst also making best use of the ‘wastes’ produced within the agri-food sector by delivering a protocol for the implementation of the ‘circular economy’.

AgroCycle Map
AgroCycle Map.

AgroCycle is working to further develop, demonstrate and validate novel processes, practices and products for the sustainable use of agricultural wastes in applications such as fertilisers, bio-polymers and novel chemicals as well as developing technology and policy guidelines for the bioeconomy. The project is addressing the valorisation of wastes from several agricultural sectors to reflect the Sino-EU consortium: wastes from wine, olive oil, horticulture, fruit, grassland, swine, dairy and poultry. The project has been very busy over the last 22 months to achieve its objectives, the following work is just a quick overview of what is currently underway and what has been achieved.

Assessing waste value chains

This is the first work package of the project and has now been completed, however; as new data are being published, the reports will be updated again before the end of the project. So, what has ‘Assessing Waste Value Chains’ involved?

• Quantifying, mapping, and characterising agricultural waste flows in Europe;

• Assessing value chain logistics and current regulatory requirements;

• Reviewing sustainable extraction rates of crop residues.

Five reports were produced from the work carried out:

1. Database/Inventory of Agricultural Wastes, Co-products and By-products (AWCB) Value Chains. Due to the size of the report and data collected, the report has now been divided into four smaller reports on: Animal, Fruit, Cereal and Vegetable;

2. Characterisation of AWCBs;

3. Holistic Analysis of AWCB Chains and Logistics of AWCB Valorisation Systems;

4. Report on the main agricultural value chains in China and corresponding regulations;

5. Report on EU Regulatory Framework for AWCB Management, Environmental and Potential Health Risks.

Bioenergy and biofuels

Partners across Europe and China are collaborating on the investigation of different biofuels such as bioethanol, biobutonal, biogas, bio-oil and bioelectricity by using different valorisation processes and by also utilising different feedstocks. Through this research the following is currently underway:

• Construction of ethanol and butanol production pilot plants;

• Installation of dry AD units in Ireland for poultry manure;

• Partners in the UK and China are working on the development of third generation microbial fuel cells to convert biodegradable materials present in waste into electricity BIOFERTILISER PRODUCTION The next work package for AgroCycle is that of evaluating the effectiveness of biofertilisers from waste materials e.g.;

• Lignosulfonates from pruning wastes;

• Digestate from AD treated manures;

• Natural fertilisers from rice bran Partners across the Consortium are hard at work and in the coming months will be publishing ‘Practical Guidelines for organic wastes as soil amendments and Organic Fertilisers’.

An ‘Open Day’ will also be organised by our Project Partners CREA before the end of the project, so keep an eye out on the AgroCycle and CREA website for details.

Novel chemicals and biopolymers

This spans two work packages including AgroCycle’s exploitation and treatment of agricultural wastewater and the valorisation of biowaste into high value products, such as:

• Extraction of proteins, fibres and secondary plant metabolites (SPM) from horticultural waste streams e.g. potato pulp;

• Demonstration of the application of extracted biocompounds in nutraceuticals, active packaging, adhesives and coating applications;

• Novel bio-adsorbents development and testing;

• Agro-industrial (nutritional) wastewater exploitation and treatment.

Life Cycle Assessment

The aim of the LCA work package is to assess environmental and economic sustainability of the impacts arising from the other work packages within the project. The first step was drafting an LCA Framework, defining a hierarchal approach dependent on the TRL of the target product, process or service. The next step was to identify candidates for the LCA Technical Work Package Case Studies (four in total). The four identified case studies (draft/interim versions are now available on the AgroCycle website) are:

1. Poultry litter valorisation through micro anaerobic digestion to produce biogas;

2. Valorisation of rice bran through composting to produce fertiliser;

3. Fruit processing waste valorisation through hybrid anaerobic digestion to produce single cell protein and biogas;

4. Valorisation of potato pulp to produce bioplastic.

Under this work package, a Biomass Supply Chain Evaluation was also carried out, to fully characterise the available AWCBs and their current management systems, followed by in-depth characterisation of the value chain for each of the 4 selected AgroCycle technologies.

Business models + Policy + Learning

AgroCycle, in its endeavour to access all aspect of the application of the ‘circular economy’ across the agri-food industry, is also carrying out research into the development of:

• Sustainable value chains and new models for sustainable business diversification across the agricultural sector in Europe;

• Mapping out potential markets in Europe and China for agri-food wastes;

• A Joint Stakeholder Platform for knowledge/data sharing for actors in the agri-food circular economy;

• Training and educational activities to provide in-depth opportunities for transfer knowledge via classroom learning, with dedicated lesson plans and online resources for teachers, via ‘AgroCycle-Kids’.

It has been a busy few months with a lot more to follow. The project will be hosting joint events with projects such as AgriMax at ESOF 2018 in Toulouse in July. Another activity being jointly organised with AgroCycle’s Chinese Partners (China Agricultural University and Nanjing Tech University) and H2020 NoAW and its Chinese partners is a ‘Mission to China’ in October of this year. The event in China will be an equal mix of business, academic and research knowledge sharing and Chinese cultural exploration.

All these reports for freely available here; for further information, please visit AgroCycle website 

Contacts: @AgroCycle_EU

nuova-immagine-9This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovationprogramme under grant agreement No 690142.

This article is by Shane Ward, University College Dublin.

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