exploring the world of closed-loop organics
Since 2012, our initial focus on micro anaerobic digestion (AD) has branched into urban food growing, hydroponics, digestate filtration, soil health, composting, food-related enterprises and upcycling, working with universities, community groups and businesses. This circular journey highlighted the challenges and exciting opportunities ahead. LEAP is now developing key enabling technology and optimising the next generation of advanced AD systems as well as developing training and enterprise support to empower more resilient, self-sufficient communities.
NOMAD is a 3-year, EC Horizon 2020 funded collaboration (2019-2022), gathering partners from Greece, the UK, Italy, Romania, Malta, the Netherlands and China to address digestate shortcomings by developing an innovative, small-scale tech solution designed to ensure biosecurity, eliminate contaminants, reduce volume and recover nutrients from digestate for formulation into high-performance bio-fertiliser products.
Digestate, is a liquid fertiliser full of valuable recovered nutrients and fibre that farmers can use as renewable inputs. But, long-term impacts on soil, ranging from acidification to decreased worm populations, are only now becoming apparent.
With climate, waste, energy and circular economy policies all driving the growth of AD
worldwide, there is now an urgent need to address these major issues.
Digestate currently represents the AD sector's biggest challenge. This important project could help revolutionise the way it is managed by providing affordable, on-site processing for plants, which lack the space to utilise it on-site. Thus, disposal costs and transport emissions for removing bulky, liquid off-site will be avoided. NOMAD also provide a complete, circular solution for digestates contaminated by antibiotics, plastics, heavy metals, bacteria and viruses.
ECOSMART is a clean energy project that brings LEAP together with Nigerian partners; Solar Sister; Meyana Bioenergy; and Energy and Industry Development Initiative and UK partners; the University of Sheffield and Connected Energy Technologies.
The project is developing a smart, enhanced anaerobic digestion design combined with solar technology to form the basis of a circular economy minigrid model for Sub-Saharan Africa. The project aims to establish an integrated UK Nigerian supply chain that aligns social and gender considerations with economic and environmental benefits.
It's focus on valorising cassava, yam, and mixed market wastes will ensure a high proportion of beneficiaries are women and those on low incomes. Successful delivery would help LEAP achieve its social objectives and support developing countries to leapfrog centralised infrastructure and pioneer innovative, more equitable models of energy generation, organic resource distribution and reuse.
SYMBIOTIC's consortium combines includes Malaysian partners; Future Alam Borneo; Arkitrek and LAX Global with UK partners LEAP, University of West London and University College London,
with expertise spanning novel aerobic/anaerobic digestion technology, advanced PLA production, urban regeneration design, community engagement and innovative circular business modelling.
SYMBIOTIC will explore social and technical synergies in a waste to wealth project that aims to transform Malaysia’s organic and plastic waste streams into high value products. Its circular approach will be applied to a poor region of Sandakan, a coastal town in Sabah, Malaysia, which suffers from inadequate waste infrastructure and high levels of pollution. The project will introduce a scalable solution as part of a circular economy model to reduce poverty and social/gender inequality as well as supporting community engagement, participatory design, behaviour change and urban regeneration design.
A new urban metabolism software and a decision-support tool will be created to assess the long term environmental, social and economic impacts of adopting sustainable, decentralised resource management strategies that can impact recycling rates, deliver affordable renewable energy, reduce pollution, increase enterprise and training opportunities and support local food production.
testing circular models in educational and urban living lab settings
SGS Berkeley Green
Gloucester Science and Technology Park
LEAP is exploring the opportunity to establish a presence at the new Berkeley Green University Technical College alongside organisations such as Ecotricity and Brunel University. Set in the grounds of the UK's first commercial nuclear power plant, the site has been at the cutting edge of science and technology for over 40 years and employed 2000 people before being decommissioned in 1989. LEAP plans to test its optimised AD system to help tackle the growing food waste volume as the college expands.
Calthorpe Living Lab
Calthorpe Community Garden
LEAP established a closed-loop demonstration at the Calthorpe in 2014 combining a micro digester with raised bed horticulture and a community cafe. Later we experimented hydroponic and digestate filtration and delivered training in 2018, engaging 275 people in a range of activities from urban food growing to DIY hydroponics, reclaiming used timber, stencilling and an exploration of sustainable cities. The site has hosted numerous university student group visits as well as being open to the public severn days a week. The Living Lab has helped us test ideas and technology in a relaxed, inclusive community setting where people and human-scale tech meet. More images
Camley Street Natural Park
London Wildlife Trust
This tranquil haven in the heart of London hosted LEAP's first pilot plant from 2013 - 2018. It featured a 2-stage digestion process, which included maceration, automated feeding and a direct link with the cafe gas hobs. The biogas was also trialed in a Baxi Ecogen - a domestic scale CHP (combined heat and power) unit that generated electricity and heat. Digestate was used in simple food growing trials. The 2m3 digester processed over 5 tonnes food waste a year with food waste collections carried out within a 1-mile radius area on a cargo bike. Early adopters such as Kier, Max Fordham and Etsy took up the service. The plant was fully evaluated by Leeds University with data captured manually and remotely showing performance comparable with larger systems.
Poplar Harca, Tower Hamlets
Working with architect and artist collective public works, LEAP ventured into hybrid renewable microgrid territory. We designed and built a micro digester in a shipping container, integrated with solar thermal and solar PV technology. A future micro wind turbine is planned with the aim of optimising energy management between intermittent (solar and wind) and baseload (anaerobic digestion) sources. The site also features shipping containers housing a tool library, workshop space and mini community kitchen. We will be trialling a cascade hydroponic system later this year and are testing air quality improvement measures involving moss cassettes. We hope this site will attract and host other organisations in the near future working along similar circular economy lines. More images
inspiring the next generation of engineers and food producers
Lab scale digester project
University College London Academy
At UCL Academy, LEAP worked with UCL researcher Dr Aiduan Borrion to deliver a closed-loop food waste programme involving students working in teams to build mini lab-scale digesters, gas holders and manometers. Students learned about the GHG emissions associated with food waste in landfill and took part in food waste audits, donning gloves and aprons to sort and measure the various categories of food waste produced during lunchtimes. Students interviewed their kitchen staff and the school committed to separating food waste for collection by Camden 's waste and recycling service. Students also produced artwork to display what they had learned about the waste and the value it contains.
Mobile digester prototype
Petchey Academy were keen to explore how students could be involved in building a working prototype - a mechanical cow's stomach. LEAP collaborated with Public Works to deliver a series of workshops where students worked in teams to construct the components of the AD system. A hemisperical sink fitted with a macerator acted as the mouth where food waste was 'chewed' into smaller pieces before entering the first stomach. It was then pumped into the second stomach where gas was produced and captured in a gas bag, sitting on top of the structure. Biogas pressure was measure with a DIY manometer and a desulphuriser filled with active carbon pellets filtered hydrogen sulphide from the biogas.