AccelWater’s pilot plant at MAFRICA enables progress towards “zero waste” strategies in the meat industry

The pilot plant is a real example of the potential of solutions based on the circular bioeconomy concept

The food and beverage industry accounts for 56% of global freshwater consumption for industrial use. In the meat sector, for example, pig slaughterhouses can use between 250 and 550 litres per head of animal slaughtered, with the cleaning of carcasses and equipment and sanitisation of facilities being the most water-intensive activities. In the case of cattle slaughterhouses the use is even higher: between 500 and 1,000 litres per animal. As global water demand is progressively increasing in parallel with more frequent and prolonged drought episodes, it is more necessary than ever to move towards new circular economy models and to reduce the water footprint.

In this context, the agri-food sector needs to implement new forms of water recovery and reuse, such as the one designed and developed by the BETA Technology Centre of the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC) at the pilot plant of the meat company MAFRICA, in Sant Joan de Vilatorrada (Bages). The technological system of this plant allows the recovery and recovery of waste, both solid and liquid, generated by the same company, with the aim of moving towards the strategy of “zero waste” in the meat industry. From eight different technologies that have been implemented, seven end products can be generated: reusable water, biomethane, biomass for boilers, effluents and nutrient-rich organic amendments, biostimulants and reusable CO2.

A second life for waste

The pilot plant, which has been set up within the framework of the European AccelWater project, led in Spain by CT BETA and in which the INNOVACC cluster and MAFRICA itself also participate, is a real example of the potential that solutions based on the concept of circular bioeconomy can have. The operation of the pilot plant started this year and will be operational until 2024. The facility is located next to the existing industrial wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) and consists of two treatment lines.

The first line processes the wastewater to recover high quality water with the potential to be reused in the industrial facility itself and a liquid product concentrated in nutrients with the potential to be valorised in agriculture. The second line is the valorisation of solid waste, with the aim of recovering energy and producing high added-value products, such as biofertilisers and biostimulants.

One of the most relevant aspects of this plant is, precisely, that it focuses on the reuse of treated wastewater, which after passing through various treatment processes can be put to new uses within the facilities themselves. As for solid waste, especially organic animal matter not intended for consumption, such as viscera, intestinal contents, and fats and sludge from the industrial WWTP, the technologies chosen allow bioenergy to be obtained in the form of biogas or biomass suitable for use in a conventional boiler, which opens the door to new strategies for improving sustainability in the meat industry.

Presentation of the pilot plant

The presentation of the pilot plant was made this afternoon at the headquarters of the company MAFRICA, with the presence of Isaac Peraire, director of the Catalan Waste Agency (ACR); Mar León, manager of the Catalan Water Agency (ACA); Eva Espasa, vice-rector of Research and Knowledge Transfer at UVic-UCC; Laia Llenas, deputy director of CT BETA; Gerard Masferrer, head of R+D+i of the company MAFRICA, and Eudald Casas, director of INNOVACC, among other members of institutions linked to the project and administrations.

Laia Llenas explained the objectives of the pilot plant within the framework of the Accelwater project and stressed that “biorefineries like this one show that technology is not currently a problem; we have proven that we can generate value-added products and now what we have to do is to ensure their economic viability and to remove legislative barriers”. In this sense, he placed great emphasis on the need to involve the administration and private enterprise: “We want to help the agri-food sector to be more competitive and sustainable, to have better business models, and that is why we need all the actors to work together, so that the benefits are passed on to society”.

For her part, Eva Espasa defined the BETA Technology Centre as “one of the engines of research at UVic-UCC” and said that the pilot plant in Mafrica “exemplifies very well how it is and how we want it to be the research model of our university”. He defined it with four points: research “with an international vision and vocation, which creates links with institutions and people around the world; innovative, seeking new perspectives, new points of view and approaches, and committed to being a benchmark in its field; applied and conscious, working to provide solutions to real problems and global challenges”, and finally, “which does all this by focusing on issues and themes with a real interest for the territory to which we belong and the people who live there, with whom it seeks complicity”.

Gerard Masferrer expressed his satisfaction with Mafrica’s participation in the Accelwater project and said that this is “a clear example of collaboration between business and university” and how these synergies “help to solve real problems and move towards more circular models”. Along the same lines, Isaac Peraire stated that “we need more projects like this one, which help us to change the way we look at waste management by going to the source and not to the final stage”. He also stated that the project bears the clear hallmark of the BETA TC, “which is characterised by research with a real application, which allows for tangible results”.

Mar León pointed out that this project, which “helps to visualise the beneficial effects of the circular economy”, is linked to two of the main challenges of the ACA: ensuring the good state of water and the availability of this resource. Finally, Eudald Casas stated that INNOVAC must be the reference cluster for this project and must disseminate it “so that it reaches the entire food sector”. The event was also attended by Marc Mussons, manager of the UVic-UCC, and Eloi Hernández, president of the Regional Council of Bages, among others.

AccelWater, a European project

The main objective of the European project AccelWater is to optimise water consumption in the food and beverage industry by introducing state-of-the-art technologies for the recovery, reuse, monitoring and control of water based on artificial intelligence. It also aims to recover, manage and optimise solid waste and energy in order to achieve environmental sustainability, cost savings and the development of value-added products.

This project is implemented with four pilot plants in key industries in the European Union: industrial symbiosis integrating the dairy and brewing industries (Greece), tomato processing (Italy), fish processing (Italy) and meat processing (Spain). The project coordinator is AGENSO (Greece) and 18 partners from 5 EU countries are involved. AccelWater has a budget of 9.4 million euros and is funded by the European Commission through the Horizon 2020 programme. The project officially started on 1 November 2020 and is scheduled to end on 31 October 2024.