Interview: How modelling can help companies produce more sustainable agri-food by-products

Tamara Fernández-Arévalo

Tamara Fernández-Arévalo

Research Scientist of the Water and Waste group of Ceit Technology Center

Tamara has a degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of the Basque Country (2007), and a PhD from the University of Navarra (2016). Her activity is mainly oriented to the realization of applied research and consultancy projects for wastewater, sludge and waste management, and treatment systems optimization through mathematical modelling and simulation tools. Because of this activity, she has participated in more than 35 R&D and consulting projects, and she has produced more than 50 publications including scientific articles, conference papers and book chapters.

Tell us more about Model2bio and what makes this project special?

The main objective of the Model2Bio project is to develop a decision support tool that allows the selection of the best ways to valorise agri-food by-products. The project in general revolves around this development, although to obtain it the project has many other interesting sub-goals. On the one hand, tests are being carried out on a lab and pilot scale to delve into the processes of extraction and fermentation of agri-food by-products. On the other hand, an effort is being made to increase knowledge about the physico-chemical and microbiological characteristics of organic residual streams, their stabilisation options and the different biological, chemical, mechanical and thermal processes that can allow the valorisation of these streams.

Model2Bio is a project with high interconnection between experimental tasks and mathematical modelling and simulation activities, which strengthens the results obtained in the project. This, in turn, is obtained with a multidisciplinary consortium made up of companies, clusters, universities, and technology centres from 6 European countries.

Why is the ‘decision support system tool’ being developed by Model2bio so important?

Unlike other tools on the market, the Model2Bio-DSS tool is characterised by 1) analysing the entire value chain, from the production of the by-product in the agri-food sector to its valorisation in bio-industries; 2) provides a holistic solution, considering technical, economic, environmental and social aspects; 3) and allows the possibility of analysing potential future scenarios.

Model2Bio is an innovative concept that using predictive models will be able to select the best ways for valorising agri-food residual streams considering their composition, seasonality, and industry location among other factors.

It is these qualities that make the Model2Bio tool different.

What impacts do you hope Model2bio will have on the wider agri-food industry?

The Model2Bio-DSS tool will have a differentiated impact and benefits throughout the value chain of the agri-food industry.

For an agri-food company, for example, this can be a tool that allows them to know the potential of their residual streams, and enables them to find new ways of valuing its residual streams. Maybe, these companies have streams that they treat and manage as waste, but they don’t know that these streams can be raw material from another industry that is close to their facilities. Or maybe, their streams are valued by another company, but there is a second company that can value them in a better way, providing them with a more positive economic return.

For a waste management company, the DSS tool could enable increased income and business opportunities by providing new ways of handling agri-food residual streams.

Finally, the Model2Bio-DSS tool can help bio-industries to identify of new markets or to optimise their processes through a greater knowledge of the availability of by-products and the effect of introducing new by-products.

What is the potential replicability of the technologies being developed by Model2bio?

One of the characteristics of the Model2Bio-DSS tool is the methodology used for its development. A modelling methodology of the CEIT Technological Centre has been used, which allows the construction of compatible models. The organised structure that this methodology presents enables the straightforward incorporation of new process or system models, allowing the model library to be continuously updated.

This flexibility in turn enables the replication of the tool in other sectors, and other types of residual streams such as the paper industry, or for the recovery of inorganic compounds, among others.

Why is cooperation between projects like BBTWINS and Model2Bio so important?

Collaboration between projects is always enriching. Collaboration can maximise the impact of projects and the dissemination of their results. Projects with similar approaches will have common stakeholders, allowing collaboration between projects to reach a greater number of interested parties. In the same way, the collaboration between projects will facilitate the exchange of knowledge and will allow the identification of synergies and complementarities between the projects.

In the case of the Model2Bio and BBTWINS projects, these are complementary projects. Both projects aim to develop platforms that help in the digitisation of the agri-food industry through the circularity of its systems. BBTWINS focuses mainly on the production line analysis and Model2Bio on the valorisation of the by-products obtained from it, although both consider the entire value chain.

The circular economy and the digitisation of systems are today crucial pillars for business growth and keys to the industrial competitiveness of the sector, and it is through these tools that Model2Bio and BBTWINS will try to contribute to the transformation of the agri-food sector.

The Model2Bio project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.