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Start-up IntelliDigest turns crusts into currents

Amit Katwala

(Credit: IntelliDigest)
(Credit: IntelliDigest)

An engineering start-up firm is developing technology that can turn food waste from restaurants and hospitals into electricity on site.

IntelliDigest, a spin-out from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, has designed a prototype for a device that would use microbes to create biogas, which could be used to generate heat or power. It optimises microbial conditions to increase yield. 

“There is a need for people to get committed to recycling in terms of having a direct benefit from the process,” IntelliDigest founder Ifeyinwa Kanu told Professional Engineering. 

She pointed to the government’s drive to send zero food waste to landfill by 2020, and said that businesses would have to pay more attention to cutting down waste and recycling. 

Kanu, who launched the company out of her PhD research, said she is hoping to secure funding for the prototype in the next two months, with a view to commercialising it within the next year. As well as restaurants, the firm is looking to work with large sources of food waste such as hospitals, and has a partnership with NHS Highland. 

“Most of the people in hospital don’t eat their food because they’re sick, and because it could be contaminated it can’t be used for other purposes,” she said. “We not only help them recycle more efficiently, we also help them drive down their energy costs and boost their corporate social responsibility.”

Richard Blanchard, a lecturer in renewable energy at Loughborough University, told PE that the development could be “a good thing for schools, hospitals and communities,” but that its success may rest on its cost compared to current solutions.  

He said it was also important to take a “holistic systems approach,” and cut down on the amount of waste generated. The UK produces 10 million tonnes of food waste a year, much of which still goes to landfill sites. 

There are 208 anaerobic digestion plants in Britain, including ones run by supermarkets such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, but this is the first on-site solution. 

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