Anaerobic digestion (AD) turns waste into biogas and a nutrient-rich soil additive – but the current solutions are too complex and expensive for smallholdings. To give smaller farmers the benefit of AD, agri-tech start-up EcoNomad Solutions (founded by Ilan Adler and Alex Demenko) has re-engineered the technology to create a more affordable option that uses passive heating methods and naturally occurring bacteria.
Ilan has previously co-founded a charity (IRRI-Mexico) and an award-winning social enterprise in Latin America (sistema.bio), which seek to bring a range of solutions for communities and smallholders in developing markets. Now EcoNomad is bringing a refined version of those technologies adapted to the UK and Europe at large.
EcoNomad is a spin-out from the Royal Academy of Engineering and University College London. Ilan Adler explains: “What we are offering is a ‘waste to energy’ solution for small farmers, in the form of a simple and easy to operate biogas reactor. We have also patented a solar pumping and pasteurisation unit that can be used for irrigation and is a lot more affordable than most on the market.
“We have received funding for prototyping and testing and plan to go to market next year. Our sister company based in Mexico has developed a biogas unit that has worked well for smallholders in warm climates. The waste goes into the system and produces biogas, with a high-quality liquid fertiliser as a by-product that can be used onsite or sold as appropriate.
“EcoNomad is adapting and commercialising the system for use in more temperate environments. It is a scaled-down version of the AD process and uses naturally occurring bacteria already present in the manure of agricultural waste. We have designed the mixing and operating process so that it is easy to use, with minimum inputs, even in off-grid locations.”
Co-founder Alex Demenko adds: “AD has attracted controversy as the big plants require a lot of input, with farmers growing ‘energy crops’ such as maize to feed the reactors, on land that could be used for food. Our product offers a pragmatic solution that could be used by smallholders with few animals, or even a riding stable.”
“Getting rid of manure can be an issue for our clients and our system turns it into a valuable commodity.”
Ilan and Alex hope that participating at REAP 2019 will provide necessary exposure and feedback to promote the solutions to the farming community in the UK and overseas.