` Power Plant in Spain Fueled by Olive Oil Waste - Olive Oil Times

Power Plant in Spain Fueled by Olive Oil Waste

Feb. 9, 2015
Sukhsatej Batra

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Although in its ini­tial stage, the new power plant in Andalucia, Spain is gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity, sav­ing the envi­ron­ment from harm­ful tox­ins, and pre­serv­ing land­fill space by using waste from olive oil pro­duc­tion as fuel.

Funded by the European Union with part­ners from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain and Greece, the pro­to­type power plant or Biogas2PEM- FC project, is the prod­uct of research car­ried out at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden in col­lab­o­ra­tion with PowerCell, a Nordic clean­tech com­pany that is a leader in fuel cell tech­nol­ogy.

Development of the Biogas2PEM- FC project took two years to com­plete. The first pro­to­type power plant, installed in an olive oil pro­duc­tion facil­ity oper­ated by coop­er­a­tive of San Isidro de Loja, Granada, ful­fills its aim of pro­duc­ing power from waste cre­ated dur­ing olive oil pro­duc­tion.

Carina Lagergren, lead researcher of the project at KTH Royal Institute of Technology empha­sized that the most impor­tant thing was find­ing a solu­tion for all of the toxic waste left­over from olive oil pro­duc­tion.”

Olive oil waste is toxic for the envi­ron­ment; it is acidic, highly saline and con­tains pes­ti­cides, toxic organic com­pounds and other haz­ardous con­t­a­m­i­nants. Current dis­posal method of dump­ing olive waste into sludge pits is poten­tially harm­ful for the envi­ron­ment as the tox­ins can leach into the sur­round­ings.

Instead of dump­ing olive oil waste into sludge pits, the esti­mated 30 mil­lion cubic meters of waste­water pro­duced annu­ally by olive oil mills could be used for bio­gas pro­duc­tion, accord­ing to Per Ekdunge, project coor­di­na­tor and vice pres­i­dent of PowerCell.

Carina Lagergren explained the olive oil project to President Barack Obama in 2013. (Photo: David Callahan)

The new power plant uses olive oil waste to pro­duce clean” energy in a three-step process.

Olive oil waste first under­goes diges­tion by anaer­o­bic bac­te­ria to pro­duce bio­gas, which con­sists of methane, car­bon diox­ide and sul­fur com­pounds. In the sec­ond phase, a reformer con­verts the bio­gas into car­bon diox­ide and hydro­gen, which in the third and final stage, are con­verted by the fuel cells into heat and elec­tric­ity with the addi­tion of oxy­gen.

The final byprod­uct is toxic-free waste that can be safely dis­posed in land­fills with­out con­cern of leach­ing tox­ins.

Although expen­sive, far from per­fect and still in its ini­tial test­ing, the plant pro­duces 1 kW of power. There are plans to pro­duce up to 200 kW of power that would sup­ply 50 per­cent of the pro­cess­ing plant’s energy needs, explained Lagergren.

Other plans for this project include ways of decreas­ing costs and increas­ing effi­ciency of the pro­to­type.

Use of the tech­nol­ogy to pro­duce clean energy from other agri­cul­tural waste is also pos­si­ble, accord­ing to Ekdunge. This con­cept greatly inter­ested U.S. President Barack Obama when he vis­ited the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in 2013 while the project was still under research.

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