01/17/2024 | Green Innovation
It was fitting, given the nature of the subject being discussed, that a blend of experts from industry and research environments gathered among the wetlands and open spaces of a European Green Capital. Vitoria-Gasteiz is something of a beacon of environmentally-conscious living in the heart of Spain’s Basque Country. It is also one which boasts 42 square meters of green areas per habitant and is working hard to improve the selective collection of municipal waste.
Organisers chose the Europa Palace Conference Centre, itself reputed as an icon of green architecture, as the venue for the swansong conference for a movement deigned to fast-forward thinking on how to create an Urban Circular Bioeconomy. Speakers shared their knowledge on how to transform biowaste into a broad range of what were called “valuable resources” after an inspiring opening address in which the city’s own organic waste management infrastructure and recycling goals were outlined.
Susann Günther, who is from DBFZ, the Leipzig-based Biomass Research Centre, explained just how potential biogenic resources were being monitored, Stef Denayer introduced the Tech4Biowaste database of technologies and providers and DECHEMA’s Esther Hegel spoke on the impact and markets of biowaste-derived materials.
In summary, the event was an opportunity to discuss new findings, different approaches and current challenges of biowaste upcycling - a comprehensive overview of a topic of emerging importance and intended to celebrate three years of CAFIPLA, a 12-partner project designed to drive a new integrated platform for the economic conversion of biowaste. It was an important initiative. Bio-waste — mainly leftover food and garden products — is a key waste stream with a high potential for contributing to a more circular economy, delivering everything from fertiliser to biogas, a source of renewable energy.
It was also timely, given that European circular economy and waste policies are now increasingly addressing biowaste as one of several key waste streams. These include new targets for the recycling and preparing for the reuse of municipal waste and an obligation for separate collection for bio-waste. EU Member States have to monitor the food waste generation and to also have food waste prevention programmes, supporting goals to halve it by 2030. Bio-waste accounts for more than a third of the municipal solid waste generated, amounting, according to the most recent figures, to 86 million tonnes in member states. Its recycling has therefore become a crucial element in meeting the EU target to recycle 65 per cent of municipal waste by 2035.
The level of separate bio-waste collection differs considerably across Europe. Many countries are far from capturing its full potential. Implementing a separate bio-waste collection system can be a lengthy and complex process. It needs a comprehensive and co-ordinated policy framework embedding a bio-waste strategy into broader waste and circular economy strategies.
The CAFIPLA project was supported by a pan-European consortium of research institutes, universities and businesses who brought a blend of academic and professional experience. A significant milestone came last year when the consortium’s pilot plant, known as the Loop, successfully processed its first batch of biowaste in Tenneville, Belgium, setting a significant marker in terms of gathering the sort of data required for further expansion to industrial scale.
“With a technology readiness level of five, the Loop reactor processed almost 20 tonnes of mixed biowaste within the final project months and demonstrated the upscaling potential of the CAFIPLA technology,” said DECHEMA’s Christina Andressen. “The pilot process provided valuable platform products which were sent to the CAFIPLA partners and further upcycled into various biowaste-derived end products: fibre-based insulation panels, transparent PHA foils and bags as well as PHA-fibre biocomposite materials.”
Alongside the technical work undertaken, market assessments of the novel CAFIPLA value chains provided guidance for the application-oriented development of the process and confirmed the high relevance and impact of biowaste-derived materials in an expanding bioeconomy.
She added: “Through the project’s multichannel dissemination approach from radio interviews, podcasts, webinars and workshops to conference participations and scientific publications, the CAFIPLA partners not only promoted the scientific relevance of biowaste upcycling but brought the topic also to the public attention to improve the general awareness for the topic and encourage participation.”
The idea of using organic waste as an abundant, renewable resource for bioproduction is not entirely new. But the CAFIPLA approach was arguably unique in that it combined a carboxylic acid platform (CAP) for the conversion of easily degradable biomass with a fibre recovery platform (FRP) for the valorisation of fibrous biomass.
This meant that a broad spectrum of economically relevant bioproducts could be generated from mixed biowaste, something outlined to members who were able to see the Loop for themselves last year during a visit to the project at the municipal biowaste treatment facility at Tenneville’s IDELUX Environment.
Current climate scenarios risk an overreliance on biomass which results in a predicted biomass ‘gap’ of 40-70 per cent by 2050. That’s significant because, in an expanding bioeconomy, demand and competition for biomass as a feedstock will increase, making the efficient utilisation of biowaste, an abundant but currently underused resource, become increasingly important.
As for the future, there appears an undoubtedly strong commitment. The European Commission assesses in their recent Bioeconomy Strategy Progress Report how their currently ongoing pilot actions are focused on developing urban circular bioeconomy concepts “for the production of safe, sustainable and valuable bio-based products from urban biowaste and wastewater”.
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