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Novel anaerobic digestion fertiliser unit

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ADFU (Novel anaerobic digestion fertiliser unit)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2019-10-31

What is the problem/issue being addressed?
Anaerobic digestion (AD) is the biological breakdown of organic material by micro-organisms in the absence of oxygen. AD produces biogas, a methane-rich gas that can be used as a fuel, and digestate, a source of nutrients that can be used as a fertiliser. AD is rapidly expanding worldwide due to numerous sustainability benefits and can help governments meet their EU Renewable Energy and EU Renewable Waste Framework Directives which have 50% targets set for 2020, promoting circular economy. However, AD produces a large amount of nutrient waste called digestate. Disposal of this slurry can be problematic as it usually needs to be spread on fields or disposed via wastewater treatment plants.

Why is it important for society?
Digestate is a natural fertiliser, containing water, valuable nutrients (nitrogen, phosphate, potassium) and organic carbon suitable for soils. Digestate is the remaining part of the feedstock originally fed into the digester once the gas is extracted. AD locks in the feedstock’s nutrients in digestate. However, there is a serious problem with disposing of the current volume of digestate produced. Its value is underrated but it offers significant agricultural & environmental benefits allowing nutrients to be recycled back into the land, supporting the circular economy.

What are the overall objectives?
This Phase 1 Feasibility Study aimed to objectively and rationally analyse the novel digestate technology. We assessed the business model from several angles: technical, economical and operational. Furthermore, it provides parallel analysis which are of key importance to developing a success strategy: a market assessment, an initial route to market strategy and an exploitation plan, which analyses different commercialisation channels. In order to introduce the technology to multiple sectors within the AD industry, with a focus on-farm AD and commercial organic waste AD.

We carried out this research in several stages, reflecting our development priorities alongside this Horizon 2020 Phase 1 project. Our conclusions are that we identified and assessed the AD/digestate management market, alongside commercialisation opportunities.
Our work has been assessing the possibility for applications in digestate management across several AD sectors. We have conducted specialised interviews and concluded the best route-to-market is the. Moreover, we have used this grant to improve our understanding of the market, by investigating market drivers and barriers in different AD sectors.

The following objectives were concluded during the preparation of our proposal as the main contents of the Feasibility Study to be developed and we conducted the following:
• Market assessment of the AD industry: market structure and size, competitor analysis, market potential and pricing guidance;
• Further understanding of the farm and organic waste AD sectors;
• Exploitation plan: route-to-market and commercialisation strategy;
• Discussions with and identification of other important stakeholders and partners;
• IP landscape and patent analysis.

Simultaneously to the Phase 1 market and IP research above, technical feasibility was continued by assessing the adaptation of the ADFerTech unit to process larger volumes of digestate in both organic waste and farm AD markets. The following work was completed:
• Further nutrient optimisation studies were continued (included speaking with engineers);
• Scale up research partnership feasibility studies were conducted by speaking with new potential partners in both EU and UK, multiple site visits carried out;
• Manufacturing feasibility research continued with existing partners
• Technological risks evaluated and summarised in the Phase 2 plan

In addition, we have also taken advantage of the coaching facilitated by the European Commission. We have worked closely with our chosen coach and his input has been invaluable.
The ADFerTech business opportunity is an innovative approach to digestate management based on a novel method of nutrient recovery that can be tailored to suit a wide range of different markets and industrial applications. Our disruptive technology was designed as a standalone bolt-on device initially intended for use in the farm waste AD sector but changes to the regulatory and incentive landscape has driven rapid change in the industry and wider applications have since been identified. Through market research and research performed during this Phase 1 report, ADFerTech has identified a strong market need for the technology in the commercial organic waste AD sector. As illustrated in interviews with key industry and opinion leaders (KOLs), the organic waste AD sector is experiencing significant growth and these AD plants are often built in industrial zones and have no access to land upon which to spread digestate or space to build digestate storage facilities.

The novel ADFerTech device will yield great benefits through supporting a nutrient circular economy and is more cost-effective than alternative nutrient recovery technologies, capable of stripping one element at a time. According to our preliminary technical results, show reduction of COD by over 95%, in addition to demonstrating that nutrient absorption and fertiliser granulation can occur in the same process using a variety of feedstocks.

Extensive discussions with KOLs have revealed a large market gap which we are poised to dominate. The unique ability to recover valuable nutrients in one cost-effective process, whilst creating an easily managed value-added end-product and supporting a green economy is a ‘holy grail’ of digestate technologies.
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