Fruit and vegetable production are responsible for more than 40% of the waste in the food supply chain. This waste is a potential source of natural bioactive substances that is currently not exploited. The Horizon 2020 project Agro2Cicular (A2C), which started last month, aims to change this. A European consortium led by a Spanish partner will be working for three years with residual flows that arise from the growing of fruit and vegetables. The Spanish region of Murcia, also known as the ‘vegetable garden of Spain’, will serve as an example region. WaterCampus partners CEW and Wetsus are part of the consortium and will be involved to optimise the water usage and the production of bioplastics (PHBV). There will be close collaboration with the Circular Plastics and Water Technology departments of NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences.
Multilayer plastic films are often used in the (greenhouse) horticulture sector as protective packaging for food and as agricultural plastic due to their unique barrier properties. But unfortunately the application of these films leads to a lot of unusable waste. The CEW will work with two residual flows within A2C. One of them is created when the plastics are shredded and washed for recycling, the other when PHAs (natural plastics) are produced. Microorganisms in water produce these PHAs in their cells. To harvest them, the cell has to be destroyed by adding a lot of salt to the water. The nutrients from the first stream will be recovered by thickening. The second stream must be desalted after the release of the PHAs. The CEW will build pilot plants for both processes in the Netherlands, which will eventually be shipped to Spain by sea container to conduct practice-oriented research there for one year.
A2C involves many students from universities of applied sciences in Leeuwarden, as well as from local schools in the Murcia region. In addition to students with water-related courses, disciplines such as Computer Vision & Data Science are also needed. Big data and digital tools form an important part of the solutions that will be developed. The possibilities of digitisation are still rarely used in the agri-food sector. A2C wants to implement a Data Integration System (DIS) that makes it possible to accurately monitor, predict and influence crop growth, also known as a Predictive Decision Tool. The ultimate goal of A2C is a fully circular, systemic approach to residuals in the agri-food sector, with a high level of replicability and scalability. In September 2024, A2C will be concluded with a symposium, in which students will again participate.