Could anaerobic digestion power phones of the future?

Smartphones could soon be powered by the product of anaerobic digestion (AD) of food waste, thanks to a new European research and development project.

The PlasCarb project is attempting to transform food waste into graphitic carbon to be turned into graphene. Graphene technology both stores and maximises the power in smartphones.

Graphite has been designated by the EU as one of 14 economically critical raw materials which will be of significant importance in the development of future emerging technologies. The global graphite market is worth €10m, having grown 5% year-on-year since 2012. 


The project uses a low-energy plasma reactor to convert methane biogas generated by AD to graphitic carbon by splitting it into carbon and hydrogen, from which the carbon could be turned into graphene.

Commenting on the application of graphene in other products to create closed-loop manufacturing processes, Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) chief executive Charlotte Morton said: “Graphene is an extremely exciting example of the new emerging high-value products that AD can offer.

“Potentially a revolutionary product for medicine (including cancer treatment), water purification, aircraft technology, road vehicles, defence equipment, sustainable food packaging as well as for communications technologies, including smartphones – graphene could help a huge range of sectors lower their carbon footprint, and provide exciting new markets for renewable gas.

“Perhaps most importantly, the possibilities from graphene demonstrate the need to extract value from our food waste, which currently costs the average household about £500 each year and every food outlet about £10,000 per year. The potential value of food waste to new emerging technologies highlights the need for source segregated food waste collections.” 

Changing Industry

Innovation of this nature is the future of the smartphone industry according to the Green Alliance’s Dustin Benton. Writing in a blog post today (2 April), Benton said that although computers and phones might seem like the last place a circular economy might take hold, it is an industry constantly changing.

“If ever there was an industry that can grab new technology and new business models quickly, it’s the internet industry. The company that makes a success of the circular economy approach will probably be the one that sells smartphones to the next five billion,” Benton wrote.

The Green Alliance released a report in February revealing how the sector is getting more carbon-intensive over time; the carbon footprint of iPhones has quadrupled in the last five years.

The report also details six ‘circular’ ways to cut these emissions, including more software upgrades, more uniform (modular) parts and a focus on re-use. Just keeping a smartphone in use for an additional year cuts its CO2 impact by 31%, the Green Alliance found.

Innovation Zone at Sustainability Live 2015

For the first time, edie will be hosting an Innovation Zone at Sustainability Live 2015 to showcase the best emerging, pre-commercialised sustainability solutions. The Innovation Zone will showcase 16 selected entries to an invited audience of potential investors and venture capitalists along with the show’s visitors from the business and public sectors.

Sustainable innovation: A look-back

– Under Secretary of State for Energy Amber Rudd said in a keynote speech that only innovation can solve the energy trilemma.
– Carlsberg launched a collaborative project to develop the world’s first fully biodegradable wood-fibre beer bottle
– Outdoor-wear company Timberland and tyre manufacturer Omni United teamed up to produce tyres intended to be recycled into footwear out-soles once finished with on the road.
– Marks and Spencer developed a line of sustainable footwear made of recycled rice husks, coffee grounds and plastic bottles.
– A report published by the UK Water Research & Innovation Partnership suggested the UK is ‘lagging behind’ on water technology innovation.
– A British cleantech company started a crowdfunding campaign to help launch the solar-powered ‘Desonlenator’ to disrupt the global water crisis – sustainable innovation at its best.
– Microsoft’s chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard said that IT companies cannot “sit on the side-lines and be a laggards” when it comes to energy innovation.
Molson Coors turned its beer green with its own lightweight innovation.
BT experimented with some product innovation of its ownthrough its Net Good vision. 
– A report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) concluded that eco-innovation amongst small and medium enterprises (SMEs) faces ‘major financial barriers’ across the EU
– Procter & Gamble’s global waste reduction leader Dr Forbes McDougall underlined the company’s commitment to finding innovative ways to deal with its waste materials
– The Government’s Green Investment Bank supported waste innovation with £33m of investment. 
Sixteen of the most innovative cleantech companies in the UK were been selected to attend the Clean and Cool Mission 2015 in San Francisco, in a bid to break into the US market. 
– In an exclusive interview with edie, the head of sustainability at Innovate UK, Richard Miller said 2015 will be the year that sustainability becomes an integral part of all business innovation

Lucinda Dann

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Harland says:

    Yes Edie. The idea of generating power through Anaerobic digestion looks fantastic. Anaerobic digestion has been rising as a sustainable resource in the international context, and it has the potential to be a long-term, cost-effective solution for wastewater management.

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