The experimental system for creating heat and energy from olive oil processing waste known as olive peat is real, not a fiction.
It exists and is operated in “Spain”. Carina Lagergren, a researcher from the Sweden KTH Royal Institute of Technology, says,
“This system is a promising way forward to reduce environmental damage and convert organic waste into energy.”
Fuel Cell technology:
Fuel cell technology was the main attraction of the first such visit by the President of the United States to KTH in 2013.
One of those projects presented to President Barack Obama at the university was the process of converting waste from olive oil production into energy for fuel cells.
The project reached its conclusion at the end of 2014, and today a model of this system exists on a small scale.
And is fully operational in an olive oil production facility operated by a cooperative in San Isidro de Loja, Granada, Spain ((San Isidro de Loja, Granada, Spain).
The electricity it produces is used to help operate the power plant.
“I remember the president was very surprised,” says Carina Lagergren, the research team leader in applied electrochemistry who introduced the idea for the project to Obama.
He asks, “If my friend – a farmer – wants to buy this system for producing electricity from waste on his farm, is it worth it?
So I told him no, it’s not at the moment, because it is something new. You cannot buy such a system and expect to be able to save a lot of money. ”
“But in the future, we hope that we can.”
The existing system currently produces about 1 kilowatt of power, and with the project partners – which includes PowerCell Sweden AB –
They are planning to request financing to expand the operation to a production capacity of 200 kilowatts.
Enough to supply 50 percent of the The processing energy needs of the power plant, she says.
“But in this project, the most important thing was to find a solution for all the toxic waste left over from olive oil production,” she says.
The conversion of waste into heat and energy takes place through a three-stage process that begins with a digester tank that breaks down materials to produce biogas.
Which consists of methane, carbon dioxide, and sulpher compounds, from which it is transferred to the reformer .
The reformer turns the biogas into carbon dioxide and hydrogen, and then converts them into the fuel cells.
When oxygen is introduced into the cell, it mixes with hydrogen and CO2 to create heat and electricity.
This process drains the toxicity of the waste and what remains can be safely diverted to a landfill.
“The idea behind the project is to show that it is possible to link these processes together – starting with the waste olive oil – and ending with electric power,” she says.
Doing so is a more sustainable alternative to the process currently underway which is that, after grinding the olives and taking the oil from them.
The waste containing pesticides and toxic organic compounds is disposed of in the sludge pits, thus spreading the resulting toxins to the surrounding environment.
Power cell, KTH:
So PowerCell, KTH, and others joined forces to find a better way. In this project, Powersel invited the KTH Institute to analyze the effect of impurities from biogas on fuel cells.
“We fed the cells with pollutants that were found in the fuel from olive oil, or from the environment in which the fuel cells operate, such as hydrogen sulfide and ammonia,” says Lagergren.
The KTH researchers also studied how the impurities affect the fuel cells.
“Is it the electrode that suffers, or the electrolyte or the platinum itself, the carbon or the polymer?” She explains.
Lagergren says the answers to questions like these will help the company define the steps needed to clean up the gas,
And it will also provide more knowledge of fuel cell specifications for those who work with such technology.
While this technology is still expensive to monetize olive peat, fuel cells in general provide a promising alternative source of electrical energy.
Molten carbonate cells, for example, are already used for very large systems.
On the KTH side, Lagergreen says the work towards a better fuel cell continues with a focus on reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
It is also involved in a project with the University of Lund and Chalmers to find alternatives to the precious metals that are used today as cofactors in many types of fuel cells.
“There are other ways to reduce the cost, such as working with electrolytes. We try to make small improvements on the various components, ”she says.
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