Turn a problem into an opportunity. From this idea was born the ambitious project to extract clean energy from the waste production of Sicilian citrus, taking advantage of the moist residues resulting from the industrial production of juices.
Oranges are the symbol of Sicily, the main Italian producer of the "golden fruit," which in Greek mythology represents fertility and love. Few know, however, that 60 percent of citrus production is wasted: when squeezed, pulp, skins and seeds become waste, called “pastazzo” in jargon. Each year, companies have to dispose approximately 340,000 tons of citrus waste, costing them more than US$11 million. No wonder, all too often, citrus fruit pulp is viewed by manufacturers as cumbersome and expensive waste to manage rather than an opportunity. Thanks to a project promoted by the Citrus Productive District of Sicily and funded by The Coca-Cola Foundation, that viewpoint may start to shift. In April, together with the University of Catania and the Empedocles Cooperative, a pilot plant was presented to demonstrate that citrus waste could be converted into electricity, biogas, bio-products and nutrients for the soil.
"The project has the merit of having turned the spotlight on a real problem with the reuse of a product—citrus fruit pulp— which is a critical factor and has the potential to become a resource,” said Federica Argentati, President of the Citrus Agriculture District of Sicily.
Typically, part of the citrus fruit pulp has been reused as food for animals, agricultural fertilizer and compost. None of these solutions, however, were able to fully absorb the mass of products from Sicilian company scraps.
The experimental plant, consisting of five steel tanks mounted on a transportable platform, tests how various mixtures of biomass from citrus fruit pulp stop production of biogas through anaerobic digestion. In turn, the gas can activate an electric generator capable of powering the average consumption of more than 300 homes.
The project is an integral revolution because in addition to reducing the costs of orange waste disposal, it involves environmental benefits by reducing the anhydrite carbon emissions through the production of renewable energy.
"This is foremost an opportunity for the Sicily Region, which can become a virtuous model for the entire Italian territory," says Vittorio Cino, Director of Communications and Institutional Relations, Coca-Cola Italy.
Agriculture is the main economic activity in Sicily, with a production of 2.1 million tons, 1.4 million of which are oranges. Coca-Cola Italy sources here exclusively to get the concentrated orange juice required to produce Fanta orange drink. The "golden fruit" is a true symbol of the island's agricultural excellence. And the project, beyond helping the sector solve a concrete problem, aims to demonstrate that food-waste should not exist. Everything can be put back into circulation and become a source of income. Besides the citrus pulp, now the system is capable of using other byproducts from the food chain such as pomace oil and blades of prickly pears. The hope is that the success of the pilot plan can be replicated and extended to the entire region. It is estimated that 20plants would be enough to "mechanically" digest all citrus waste throughout the island.
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