Skip to main content

Demonstration of innovative integrated biomass logistics centres for the Agro-industry sector in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - AGROinLOG (Demonstration of innovative integrated biomass logistics centres for the Agro-industry sector in Europe)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2020-07-31

Many agro-industries work seasonally due to the seasonal availability of their primary feedstock, so they cannot use their capital goods and facilities year-round. AGROinLOG aimed to assess the viability of creating a new business line during these idle periods so that agro-industries can fully exploit their capacities extending the activity along the whole year. This way agro-industries diversify their business, stabilising their annual activity and enhancing their competitiveness and revenues.
AGROinLOG project finalized in July 2020 having shed light over the viability of transforming an agroindustry into an Integrated Biomass Logistics Centre or IBLC. An IBLC refers to the start of a new bio-based business line during the months of low food activity using available capacities like facilities, equipment, network of contacts and staff. The new activity consists in integrating a new non-food value in the pre-existing food chain, using biomass, waste or other residues to produce bio commodities for sectors like the bioenergy or biorefinery markets. This allows increasing the utilization of the facilities of these agro-industries, so alternative non-food feedstocks (like crop residues or non-food crops) could fill the idle periods of, for example, the pre-treatment equipment (such as the dryer, mill etc.) or the storage capacity at the facility.
AGROinLOG tested the IBLC concept in three companies in Europe: In Spain at a fodder industry, in Greece at an olive oil industry, and in Sweden inside a grain-milling industry. So, we have three agro-industries with business models validated from a holistic perspective. And along the way, we got insights into the real operational conditions of IBLCs and into the key factors that contribute to optimize logistics or environmental, social and economic impacts.
We carried out different steps to transform the demo cases into IBLCs. The first step was to optimise the supply chain. This stage is very important as it has a big impact in the economic feasibility of the IBLC model. To this aim we conducted field trials with different equipment to increase the amount of harvested residues and decrease logistics costs until delivery to the facilities. We also tested and selected efficient storage methods for the biomass as well as adequate pre-treatment methods. As for the production of biofuels from wheat straw, a continuous HTL pilot rig was designed, constructed and commissioned during the project.
Apart from the tests on the field, we developed a simulation model for each demo to support decision making during the design of the supply chain. We could determine profitability of all operations in the demos, like availability of supply, optimal settings, distances, number of harvesters, or storage size for example.
Next step in the process was setting up the new production lines taking advantage of some existing equipment and logistics. Once the production was optimized, the final step was to validate the quality of the new products, so validation tests were carried out, not only at laboratory scale, but most importantly, by potential end-users in real facilities. This gave us valuable information to finetune the business model of each IBLC and confirm whether the new products could be competitive according to market standards.
As a whole, we identified potential bioproducts and bio-commodities for the grain, feed and fodder, and olive sector based on the demo cases. We produced and assessed the potential of energy pellets, thermoplastic reinforced with natural fibers, bioboards, adsorbents for hydrocarbons spills, activated carbon for electronic applications, bedding for bunnies, phenols extraction, biooil and biochar pellets.
Apart from the demos, AGROinLOG also identified European regions and agricultural sectors with high potential to replicate the IBLC concept. A participative framework was built for stakeholders (private companies, agrarian cooperatives, sector and farmer associations) to share their views and contribute to a practical and multi-actor orientation of the AGROinLOG results. Consequently, by the end of the project we developed generic strategies for the implementation of the IBLC concept in agro-industries from five specific sectors, which are vegetable oil extraction, olive oil chain, feed & fodder, wine, grain chain and sugar. Moreover, best practice guidelines were released to the agricultural sector, sharing AGROinLOG’s experience and lessons learnt.
The main conclusion of the project is that the implementation of IBLCs in agro-industries in the sectors assessed can be viable and may represent an opportunity for diversification.
The business models designed for the three demo cases reveal that they improve temporal employment and even contribute to create full time jobs. Therefore, the implementation of the IBLC concept in agro-industries can help to attract and retain population in rural areas
Some highlights about each demo case are as follows:
1. In Spain, we have demonstrated that it is possible and profitable to develop an IBLC in the fodder sector based on the production of blend pellets with a low initial investment for the agro-industry, since they already account with the majority of the equipment necessary to carry out the new activity.
2. In Greece we performed the first ever demonstration of mechanized olive tree pruning harvesting using integrated harvesting or shredding systems; results from previous studies were only available for Spain and Italy. The organization of such a long demonstration provides a real example of the collaboration of several local value chain actors and serves as a model for other locations in Greece. Moreover, it serves to place these commercial technologies in action, being highly replicable to other olive grown areas.
3. In Sweden, it has been demonstrated that, from a technical point of view, advanced biofuels, 2G-bioethanol and biooil, can be produced from winter wheat straw. This is an important contribution to reach the goals in the revised renewable energy directive.
All demo cases contributed to increase the CO2 eq. emissions saving comparing to fossil-based alternatives (46-80 % savings).
In all, AGROinLOG evaluated a significant number of applications, including demos and study cases, which provides a solid base to design the most suitable IBLC concept in agro-industries from different sectors. It is concluded that the IBLC model is a flexible alternative to adapt secondary business lines to market conditions in order to optimize profitability of the agro-industries and diversify their business.