From Airbus to effluent

A university is helping a small local business develop a technique to convert waste products from farms into energy.
Based in Sutton in Ashfield, Lindhurst Engineering was formed to provide solutions to the UK mining market, focusing particularly on the operational functionality of coal-face equipment. But with the decline of the coal mining industry in the UK, the company needed to look for new markets.
Lindhurst diversified its operations, focusing more specifically on hydraulics. It developed electro-hydraulic motion systems, such as the one used for the central show in the Millennium Dome, and also worked with Rolls-Royce to upgrade the equipment it used to test the on-board hydraulics of the A380 Airbus engines.
Still open to new ideas, managing director Martin Rigley identified an opportunity in the farming industry to convert waste products into energy and after attending a University of Nottingham event for local businesses, realised that university researchers could potentially provide the support necessary to develop his idea.
The University’s Environmental Technology Centre (ETC) specialises in assisting businesses improve environmental efficiency and staff met Rigley to explore ways in which the university could help. A project was established between Lindhurst and university academics to investigate the potential of developing a new microbial fuel cell (MFC) that could convert farm effluent and dairy by-products into electricity and bio-gas.
As awareness grew of the potential applications of the technology, industrial partners including Arla Foods, and more recently the anaerobic digestion business, Clearfleau, have also come on board.
Keith Baker, director of ETC, said: “Although scientists have known for almost a century that bacteria produce electric currents, it is only in relatively recent years that we have really started to understand exactly how to harness this power into microbial fuel cells. The microbial fuel cell that the university is developing with Lindhurst will enable farms and other types of agricultural businesses to generate most or all of their energy requirements from waste water and slurry.”

‘the results are very promising and we will have a product within 18 months’

To provide Lindhurst with the dedicated resource needed to commercialise the MFC technology, the university appointed post-doctoral graduate Laura Porcu, an expert in microbial fuel cell research, into Lindhurst through the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) scheme.
The scheme is a relationship between a company and a university that enables the transfer of knowledge, technology and skills. Businesses involved in such projects experience an average increase in turnover of more than £220,000 a year.
Laura’s work with Lindhurst is focused on the development and testing of a production-scale fuel cell, based at the university’s Sutton Bonington campus, where the waste products from the university dairy farm can be used to fuel the MFC.

Rigley said: “The university’s support has been invaluable. They came up with the design for the commercial plant and are now developing a working industrial scale prototype. The results are very promising and we anticipate that within 18 months we will have a product that we can offer to the market.”