An innovative European project has been studying ways to convert waste from olive oil production into electricity.
Biogas2PEM-FC is an EU-funded industrial research project coordinated by PowerCell, a Swedish fuel cell technology company, and includes partners from Greece, Spain, Sweden and the UK. The project was launched in November 2012 and was completed at the end of October 2014.
The liquid and solid waste which is left over from olive oil production is harmful to the environment because it can contain pesticides as well as toxic organic compounds. It is also acidic and has a high salinity. Such agricultural waste is difficult and expensive to dispose of properly.
As part of the project, a pilot plant using a prototype has been built on an olive farm and mill in Andalusia, Spain.
To achieve the goal of producing electricity, several technologies have been combined into a 3‑part subsystem which first requires an anaerobic digestion reaction to produce biogas from the waste, which is then converted to a hydrogen-rich gas (reformate) using a reformer. Finally, a fuel cell system creates electricity from the reformate gas.
This environment-friendly solution minimizes negative environmental impact by solving the waste problem while producing electricity and heat which can be used on-site by the mill. The innovative technology can also be used with other types of agricultural byproducts.