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Credit: Asian Institute of Technology

Credit: Asian Institute of Technology

Thailand’s Asian Institute of Technology develops a method to produce electricity from leftover waste

An announcement from the Bangkok Post highlighted the project developed by researchers from the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in cooperation with the Loughborough University that is able to produce power from leftover waste.

Researchers from the AIT campus, located north of Bangkok, have developed an efficient way to produce power from leftover waste.

The researchers spent two years working on the project and have developed a food digester that eats leftovers and turns them into electricity.

From AIT's School of Environment, Resources and Development (SERD) Faculty, Professor Chettiyappan Visvanathan said, “Food waste accounts for nearly half of municipal solid waste in Thailand.”

He explained that one of Thailand’s major challenges concerns waste segregation and adequate food waste management. For instance, the 133-hectare AIT campus produces about 1,680kg of waste every day. 60% of which is food waste.

Because of this, the campus provided the perfect setting for the pilot run of the project, which could then be replicated in other Thailand communities.

Prof Visvanathan said, “A sample of the community food waste revealed a mixture of raw, cooked and overripe food, with no formal method of segregation for disposal.”

The AIT research team, including Prof Visvanathan and Prof Abdul Salam, decided to create an anaerobic digester on campus after they have sampled food waste from the housing, the eateries and the cafeteria.

The “Anaerobic Digester with Centralised Monitoring System” was developed by AIT in partnership with Loughborough University. The project was aided by funding from the British Council's Newton Fund.

The process starts with the collection of food waste from the central AIT cafeteria, which would then be transported to the project site located a few hundred paces away.

Waste is then pulverised and fed into a reactor for digestion. The digester produces biogas and a nutrient-rich bio-fertiliser from this waste.

Prof Visvanathan explained, “What we have successfully demonstrated is producing 100m³ of biogas from the daily food waste generated at AIT, which is an equivalent of 60 litres of kerosene or 167kg of firewood or 73kg of charcoal.”

He added, “Power generation from our plant will be 187kWh, which can power about 1,000 15W LED lightbulbs for 12 hours."

The distinguishing factor of this digester from others is its centralised monitoring system. Real-time data is provided by a network of digesters to a central monitoring authority. A spike in the temperature or any build up in pressure can be identified and remedied immediately. Information on temperature, acidity along with the quality of biogas generated can be monitored from a computer.

On a larger scale, the centralised monitoring system can track numerous community-based biogas plants dotting the landscape. University campuses, hospitals and gated communities have the greatest potential in adopting this project.

Prof Visvanathan says that this joint Thailand - UK collaborative research is in line with Thailand's Alternate Energy Development Plan (AEDP), which calls for a decreased dependence on imported sources of energy and for the decentralised generation of energy at a community scale.

The pilot project seeks to convert waste to energy, thereby ensuring availability of localised energy that can be substituted for fossil fuels. Not only does the project ensure the sustainable management of organic waste and on-site waste segregation, but it also reduces carbon emissions and waste management expenses.

Connecting community-based plants to a central monitoring system is an example of how biogas production can be linked to the Internet of Things (IoT).

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