Pilot Launched to Convert Olive Oil Waste to Power

A pilot plant in Andalucía, Spain, built by a consortium of multinational European partners, is converting toxic waste from olive oil production into electricity using an innovative three-part process.

Coordinated by Swedish fuel cell technology company PowerCell, with participants from Spain, Greece, and the UK, the two-year European Union–funded project, Biogas2PEM-FC, ended in October 2014 with full deployment of the prototype. The project originally sought a solution that would provide a modular, reliable, cost-effective, and efficient combined heat and power system suitable for onsite generation from agricultural wastes.

The pilot plant seeks to dispose of environmentally harmful waste from olive oil production (Figure 4). “It contains pesticides and toxic organic compounds, it is also acidic and has a high salinity. Currently the waste is turned to landfill, but [that] is very costly and becomes a major environmental problem,” the Biogas2PEM-FC project developers said.

PWR_010115_GM_Fig4
4. From toxic waste to power. A pilot plant newly launched in Spain converts olive oil waste, which is environmentally harmful and costly to dispose of, into power. Courtesy: BiogasPEM-FC

The partners developed a three-part subsystem to convert the waste into power. First, it uses an anaerobic digestion reaction to produce biogas from the waste; then a reformer converts the biogas to a hydrogen-rich gas (reformate); and finally, a fuel cell system generates power from the reformate gas.

“It is estimated that up to 30 million cubic meters of wastewater is produced annually, during a three to four-month period, on an olive oil plant, water that can be used in biogas production. The technology developed in this project can also be used with other agricultural waste,” said Per Ekdunge, project coordinator and vice president of PowerCell Sweden AB.