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Sustainable techno-economic solutions for the agricultural value chain

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - AgroCycle (Sustainable techno-economic solutions for the agricultural value chain)

Reporting period: 2017-12-01 to 2019-05-31

Europe is generating 1.3 billion tonnes of waste annually, of which 700 million tonnes are from the agri-food sector. Based on projected world population increases, best estimates indicate a need to increase food production by two thirds by 2050 to feed an additional 2 billion people. There is an onus on Europe to lead the way in resolving this mayor existential challenge for mankind. While this is a mammoth task, nevertheless it presents a significant opportunity for Europe to develop and implement novel sustainable ‘circular economy’ practices across its agri-food sector, delivering new commercial, environmental and societal benefits.

The overall objective of AgroCycle was to develop the AgroCycle Protocol, a blueprint for a sustainable agri-food ‘circular economy’. The project took a holistic approach to understanding and addressing how to make best use of the full range of waste streams associated with the agri-food industry. It aimed to develop, demonstrate and validate novel processes, practices and products for the sustainable use of agricultural waste, co-products and by-products (AWCB), based around increased rates of recycling, re-use and valorisation of such waste streams. A key aspect of its focus was educating the next generation (i.e. the youth) regarding the ‘circular economy’ and how their lifestyles impact on it. It aimed to deliver a platform as a gateway to enable the commercial implementation of a ‘circular’ agri-food bio-economy.
The project took a holistic systems-based approach to addressing the application of a ‘circular economy’ across the agri-food sector, addressing all stages, from farm through to the consumer, and ‘valorisation’ pathways.
Agri-food waste value chain assessment: This work began with quantifying the available agri-food waste resource, across Europe and in China. Data quality guidelines for the collection and processing of agricultural wastes, co-products and by-products (AWCBs) data were created.

Energy extraction: The use of energy extraction via anaerobic digestion (AD) was addressed. A chicken manure Dry AD process was installed on a test farm, commissioned and its operation assessed. The effectiveness of a pre-processing nitrogen removal step was assessed at pilot scale.

Lignocellulosic AWCBs: This included, the production of bio-ethanol and specific pre-treatment techniques were created to increase bioethanol production; & biobutanol production was assessed for various acidic- and alkaline- pre-treatments. Fast pyrolysis was employed to maximise the creation of liquid biofuels (bio-oil) & soil fertilisers (biochar) from lignocellulosic AWCBs. Air-cathode microbial fuel cells (MFCs) were commissioned to generate bioelectricity from AD digestates as well as industrial wastewaters and their potential assessed.

Biofertilisers: Numerous waste stream-extracted Biofertilisers (BF) were evaluated for their C & N mineralization dynamics. The agronomic and environmental impacts of selected BFs were assessed on Zucchini-, lettuce-, winter oat-, wheat- and rice-test crops.

Waste water: Membrane-based lab-scale technologies were assessed & optimised for the extraction of polyphenols & single cell proteins(SCP) from an array of fruit processing wastewater samples. A lab-scale two-stage anaerobic/aerobic MBR pilot system that produced biogas & recovered nutrients from fruit processing waste waters was commissioned. A decision matrix support system was created to identify the optimal lab scale bioreactor for the bioremediation of pig slurry. Six different bio-based materials (AWCB) were assessed for their ability to bio-adsorb P & N.

High value products from AWCBs: Techniques for the extraction of proteins, phenolic-compounds & fibres from potato wastes were created. Potato fruit juice proteins & rice bran oils (RBO) were assessed for their bio-plasticiser potential. Potato pulp was assessed for use as a bio-composite filler; novel bakery recipes were created.

Life Cycle Assessment & Life Cycle Costing: A holistic LCA, accounting for physical (e.g. carbon losses in soils, GHG emissions, etc.), societal and economic impacts.

Knowledge platform, training and dissemination: The Joint Stakeholders Platform (JSP) & education modules aimed at the youth (see: & piloted in schools in Ireland and China. Stakeholders were engaged at numerous events – national and international workshops, conferences and exhibitions – and on social media, mainly Twitter. Updates on aspects of AgroCycle were electronically circulated to 300,000 teachers in Ireland via a weekly newsletter eLeathanach.

Sustainable value chains & business models: A holistic integration of the multi-faceted aspects of the AgroCycle work programme was undertaken to deliver an integrated assessment of how agri-food ‘circular economy’ systems would work in practice. It has delivered full value chain analyses including new business models for the agricultural sectors and for the wine/horticultural and fruit/arable-grassland including farm, processing and retail. These various scenarios were ‘peer reviewed’ by stakeholders at a special Stakeholder Worksop on Agricultural Production Systems & Sustainable Value Chains, and the outputs published.

Innovation Impacts: The project website, a Twitter, Facebook & Linkedln profile were created. An internal project management & document sharing platform was created. Numerous applications t
AgroCycle is a seminal body of work whose impacts are extensive in the context of the implementation of a pan-European agri-food ‘circular economy’. It has brought together the many facets of a full-chain agri-food system ‘jigsaw’, integrating these into an overall protocol for the implementation of an integrated agri-food ‘circular economy’, addressing a range of scenarios for the implementation of a ‘circular economy’ across the agri-food sector. Such a ‘circular economy’ is based around the utilisation of agricultural wastes, co-products and by-products (AWCBs). The AgroCycle Protocol uses a bottom-up approach, classifying and quantifying the range of AWCBs available across Europe (and China); identifying some key valorisation pathways. It has also developed and piloted (now commercialising) a trading platform ( enabling the provision of a steady stream of AWCBs as feedstock for Europe’s agri-food based ‘circular economy’ and associated bio-economy. As part of this, it has addressed the potential impact on soils of moving wastes off the farm for use elsewhere in the economy. The ‘circular economy’ and bio-economy only make sense if they are sustainable from an LCA perspective. Overall, life cycle assessment (LCA) methodologies have been developed that enable a holistic assessment of their impacts across a range of environmental and socio-economic perspectives. The AgroCycle Kids platform has made major advances in the education of the next generation (i.e. the youth) regarding the importance of the ‘circular economy’ and how their lifestyles can have major impacts on the planet. The extensive social media engagements and feedback obtained show that AgroCycle has established a profile across the agri-food sector and wider community.
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