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Biodigester – innovation in recycling food waste and beverages

Waste Recycling and Destruction Ltd (WRD) is a national company offering a wide range of services for the recycling of waste food and beverage products. From fruit and vegetables to beef, pork and lamb, WRD aim to recycle all products without using landfill, thus helping to reduce their customers’ carbon footprint.

With its headquarters in Rotherham, the company offers a nationwide service and is proud to provide a total waste management service for customers as far afield as Aberdeen and Penzance.

As part of their commitment to investigating and delivering green initiatives, WRD were interested in whether it might be possible to use waste food and beverage products to produce biogas – not only offering an environmentally friendly way to manage waste, but also helping to solve the UK’s energy gap in the process. Biogas comprises primarily of methane (50-70%), carbon dioxide (30-40%) and low amounts of other gases. Biogas with a high methane content is more desirable due to its increased efficiency. Our challenge was to increase the methane content from food waste in a cost efficient manner.

Damien Gaunt, the recycling technologies manager at WRD began discussions with Dr Jillian Newton, commercial researcher and innovation translator at Sheffield Hallam’s Biomolecular Sciences Research Centre (BMRC). The pair then approached Innovation Futures for support in carrying out further investigations into this potentially very exciting new opportunity.

The BMRC team at Sheffield Hallam have a wealth of experience in developing analytical solutions for industry and using the centre’s state-of-the-art equipment, the team began to look at the effect of microbes on biogas yield. WRD provided the food slurry to be used in the tests for comparison of biogas production, and simultaneous experiments were set up to compare the effects of adding chemicals or microbes on production of biogas.

The samples were monitored over a period of 7 days to determine which substrates gave optimal methane concentrations. The results of the experiment showed a definite and significant increase of between 86 and 99% in biogas production from the samples which had added microbes. Although still in its early stages, this research will have a major impact on the potential profitability of biodigestion.

Dr Jillian Newton, Sheffield Hallam University said, 'When WRD mentioned that they wanted to start recycling their waste food and beverages using a biodigester to create a renewable energy source in the form of biogas I was able to tailor a project specifically for their needs. The results of the research showed how they could improve biogas yields and therefore increase business profitability. Working together with WRD has forged our business-university relationship and hopefully will lead to future developments.'

Damien Gaunt, added, 'As part of a growing group of companies, WRD are keen to explore any advantages within our market which may add to our existing services/requirements and add value to our clients in processing mixed packaged food wastes – working with Sheffield Hallam University we have now developed further ‘technical’ options which could add value from an operational and commercial impact on our services.'

Project supported by Innovation Futures.

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