ORION – innovative system of anaerobic digestion

Coordinator: Julie Maguire
e-mail: julie.maguire@dommrc.com
Phone: +353 27 29180

Daithi O’Murchu Marine Research Station
Gearhies, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

WHERE: Europe (partners from France, Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain, UK, Turkey)                                                                                                                      WHEN: 01/08/2012 to 31/07/2015                                                                      WASTE MANAGEMENT HIERARCHY: Prevention: Replacement – Reduction,                                                                                                                        TYPE OF INSTRUMENT: Education, information, awareness raising; Voluntary / promotional                                                                                                  WASTE STREAMS: Municipal waste, Plastics, Food and organic waste, Paper

About: ORION project aimed to help a vast majority of SMEs to manage their organic waste by themselves in order to decrease their treatment costs (storage, transport, landfill or incineration) and increase on-site hygiene conditions. Wastes was also valorized as biomass to produce energy and increase SME autonomy and profitability.

ORION Solution scheme

The aim of the ORION project was to develop a small automatic user-friendly digestion machine that would enable the domestic on-site treatment of a wide range of organic waste from about 100 up to 5,000 tons per year at low cost and with low maintenance. To achieve this, the following scientific and technical objectives were carried out:

  1.  To move from existing large scale plants (> 20’000 t/y) distant from the waste production to stand alone smaller (3000L) modular machines.
  2.  Development of a new high performance reactor to increase the process efficiency by:
    a. Increasing the conversion efficiency of the wastes from 40% to more than 90%
    b. Decreasing the retention time from one month to two weeks.
    c. Accelerating waste digestion by immobilization of biomass in supported and efficient biofilms using specific coatings & surfaces
  3. Development of sensors, data transmission and signal processing in order to:
    a. Continuously optimize the operation of the machine
    b. Anticipate possible problems in the biological activity
    c. Reduce the operation costs
    d. Maximize the reliability i.e. with a MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) > 5 years.
  4.  Reduction of problems of build-up and blockage and fouling of critical elements such as valves and sensors using specific coatings & surfaces.
  • Budget: The project is co-funded by the Eco-innovation initiative of the European Union
    Project reference: Project ID: 282693
    Total budget: 3 880 500,55 €,  EU contribution: 2 978 002,49 €
  • Material resources:  Digestion module, Combustion module,  Sensor array, Active surfaces for bacterial control
  • Human resources: 19 team members and 4 volunteer

General results

The EU-funded ORION (Organic waste management by a small-scale innovative automated system of anaerobic digestion) initiative worked to help SMEs manage their organic waste by themselves in order to decrease treatment costs and improve hygiene. The researchers targeted the use of organic waste as biomass to produce energy and increase SME autonomy and profitability.
ORION worked with various SMEs to develop new solutions to dispose of organic waste. Other research objectives included the development of an anaerobic digestion bioreactor that could reduce SME operating costs.

The researchers developed a training strategy to address a vast community of SMEs and offer them a personalized service. With these strategies, ORION aimed to help implement EU policies on waste management and renewable energy production.
ORION delivered various developments that will aid SMEs in disposing organic waste and making better use of it. Such developments include antibacterial treatments for bioreactors, to reduce biofilm build-up on crucial elements within a bioreactor.

Quantifiable Awareness Raising/ media coverage, which led to education in waste management: 34 scientific events/conferences (oral presentation), 32 industry/public events, 4 exhibitions, 19 published articles, 2 scientific publications, 4 conferences organized, 8 workshops organized, 10 press releases, 3 websites (including the project website), 18 online publications, 2 flyers, 6 posters, 2 videos and webinars, 1 final brochure and 1 best practice guidelines produced; website with an average of 500 monthly page views.

Collected waste/environmental improvement: operation cost reduction for SMEs with 10%

Urban metabolism relevance

The project aimed to create a unique context for easier implementation of the legislation on organic waste treatment and landfills that tend to be harmonized at a European level. Therefore, there is a real need to adapt anaerobic digestion technology to SME scale and give them access to on site cost effective waste management solutions. Storing industrial wastes in landfills and incineration are the most common elimination methods used in the EU, while the storage of municipal wastes in landfills must tend to zero.

The results of the project solves some important problems regarding biomechanical treatment. Large facilities for biomechanical treatment, biogas production and/or compost production, require large occupied areas, and, in the case of biogas production, require also to ensure maximum profitability of all generated energy. This is possible where district heating systems are already built, but require large investments where a new system must be built. Another solution is to inject biomethane to the natural gas grid but again, this is currently only profitable for large plants, processing more than 20,000 tonnes/year of waste.
Therefore the aim of the ORION project was to develop a small automatic user-friendly digestion machine that would enable the domestic on-site treatment of a wide range of organic waste from about 100 up to 5,000 tonnes per year at low cost (€50 per tonne, considering 125 t/y) and with low maintenance. There will be a high degree of reduction of natural resources, using biogas and waste to produce energy and compost for land quality improvement.

There have been considered into the analyzing process the input material flows such as energy, organic waste, RDF (refuse-derived fuel), air quality measurement (safety system monitors for methane, CO, LPG (if used), fire and heat, gas treatment). The electronic nose and tongue (N&T) is the ORION AD subsystem that is in charge of measuring a number of the physical-chemical features of the digestion effluent, and of the biogas produced. Based on its outputs, the low level control system of the digester acts to maintain an optimal feeding rate and to maximize the efficiency of the digestion process.

Engaged participatory processes

The practice has been elaborated / implemented / evaluated with the engagement of private sector, research institute, policy makers, SMEs, etc. As mentioned in results, multiple events have been organized in order to engage stakeholders


The envisaged practice uses the technological development of product and process, organizational development (especially for SMEs), being orientated on high economic benefits.

Sustainability and replicability

Training to SME-AG staff was detailed allowing them to understand the patentable technology so that they can disseminate information to their members intelligently and be in a better position to exploit the technology and in doing so treat waste sustainably. Training of member SMEs will continue by the SME AGs even though the project has officially finished.
ORION objectives are fully in compliance within the objectives of the EU policies for increasing the share of renewable energy in the energy balance enhances sustainability. It also helps to improve the security of energy supply by reducing the Community’s growing dependence on imported energy sources. Contribution of SMEs to sustainable development: ORION fully complies with European policies dedicated to enhance participation of SMEs to innovation programs related to Sustainable development.

The practice can be easily reproduced by (local) public authorities and is relevant for other regions across Europe. Given the complexity of the project, and the fact that have been analyzed many waste management aspects lead to high replicability levels.

Success Factors

The project envisaged technological innovation therefore the success factors were:
SME-AGs will be the owners of any potential patentable applications for each of the commercial technologies developed during ORION. In other words, the four SME-AGs will own an equal share of any potential patents. Currently the exploitable results and their Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) are as follows:
• Jabot (Patent – TRL7) – Initiates the first steps of the digestion process, it also feeds the methanisation tank on a regular basis.
• Control systems and fault diagnosis system (Registered design – TRL7) – Sensors and instruments developed to detect and diagnose breakdowns of the AD system.
• Anti-bacterial treatments for use in the bioreactors (R&D project – TRL3) – Minimises the build-up of biofilms on crucial elements such as valves and sensors within the bio-reactor.
• Nanostructured surfaces for the promotion of methanising biofilms (R&D project – TRL3) – Optimise biofilm formation and structure on selected surfaces in order to promote rapid waste digestion and to minimise the retention time in the digester
• Combustion unit (Utility model – TRL7) – Small scale biogas combustion module for heat delivery. Fully automated with safety shut via PLC. Burns biogas with methane content >55%. Contains flare for coping with low quality biogas and reduced methane emissions. In-built capability for automatic recording of process parameters.
• Sensor array (Utility model – RTL7) – Array of multiple sensors arranged in a packaged system with calibrated operational range to suit digestion processes.
• Complete module design (Registered design – TRL7) – Integrates all the modules developed; combustion system, AD tank, control system and microbiology into a single system.

Waste, Resources, Innovation.

For more information, please check the deliverable, or contact the implementing body.

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