School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering

Research

Loughborough experts are transforming how Unilever manages waste
Loughborough experts are transforming how Unilever manages waste
Loughborough experts are transforming how Unilever manages waste

Innovation in food waste processing

  • Loughborough experts are transforming how Unilever manages waste.

Loughborough experts have developed a highly effective way of treating food-processing effluent – enabling efficient biogas recovery and transforming the way research partner Unilever manages waste.

The easy-to-use procedure has been adopted by Unilever and provides a practicable and fundamentally different approach to the design of anaerobic wastewater treatment plants.

The underlying research focused on devising a new way to characterise waste and so improve the reliability of anaerobic digester designs, improving the selection of pre-treatments for difficult waste streams and avoiding breakdowns from shock loads.

As well as being more stable than traditional waste management processes, the new approach offers significant economic and sustainability benefits – providing renewable energy whilst reducing waste water, greenhouse gas emissions and environmental risks.

On-going research is exploring the recovery of other valuable materials, including nitrogen and phosphorus.

Unilever has made significant savings – both financial and environmental – as a direct result of the new model.

Impact

  • Wastewater savings 

    Over the past four years, savings of £2m for wastewater treatment

  • Improved efficiency 

    In 2012, savings of £0.2m from biogas and £0.1m in water supply and landfill costs

  • CO2 reduction 

    A 10 million tonnes reduction in CO2 emissions from the substitution of fossil fuels in 2012

  • Risk reduction 

    Significant reductions in the risks of spills, sewer overloads and the recycling of scarce resources, namely water and fertilizer

  • Innovative design 

    The newly developed principles are to be incorporated in updated designs and guidelines for users – to be published by the Foundation for Water Research / ICE / CIWEM

  • Specialised expertise 

    Five researchers have been employed as a direct result of their specialised expertise.