Artificial intelligence has been utilized by scientists’ intelligence to come up with better microorganism-led processes that efficiently “eat” products like food waste, wastewater, and animal manure to assist in boosting the burgeoning green industry of the UK.
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The project, which is headed by the University of Surrey, has been offered a £1.4 million grant by UK Research and Innovation.
The study performed will examine the impact of utilizing various kinds of waste to feed anaerobic digestors, together with computational tools for site-wide optimization. Making use of sensors from across the value chain and data from sampling the microbes, the team will make virtual copies of the digestors (digital twins).
This will allow AI systems to learn about the effects of various feedstocks and early indicators of change.
The challenge of complex bioreactors is their lack of predictability, exacerbated by the dynamic environment within digestors—how does each species of microbe react to different food and to the other microbes around it? But the knowledge we’ll get from the data going through the digital twin digestor will start to address this uncertainty.
Dr. Michael Short, Study Principal Investigator, School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and Fellow of the Institute for Sustainability, University of Surrey
Anaerobic digestion is known as a natural process where microorganisms collapse waste without oxygen. It is utilized for fuel production and waste management. Microbes transform materials into soluble substances, which are further converted into gases like methane. It is utilized to treat waste, decrease landfill emissions, and produce renewable energy via biogas.
The anaerobic digestors of the UK’s 650 utilize microbes to consume waste, chiefly from agriculture and the food supply chain. This captures the greenhouse gases that are discharged as part of that process and purifies them to make a carbon-neutral substitute for natural gas.
Making home-grown biogas like this decreases the reliance on imported fuels and safeguards the UK from the linked vulnerabilities.
The target of Surrey’s project is to increase biogas yields by 20% with the help of the same inputs, just via the advantages of better predictability and more knowledge of reactions.
Another Professor named Jhuma Sadhukhan, from the University of Surrey, will concentrate on the environmental effect of all aspects of the anaerobic digestion process.
If digestors can start to reliably use a wider range of waste, there are multiple environmental benefits. For example, more waste can be turned into valuable forms of energy and transportation can be reduced.
Jhuma Sadhukhan, Professor, University of Surrey
The project has been headed by the University of Surrey, which includes chemical process engineers, AI researchers, experts in microbial biology, and people who evaluate the complete environmental effect of processes. Future Biogas, which is a small anaerobic digestion company based at the University’s Surrey Research Park, will allow real-time monitoring in its reactors.
We hope this research will help us optimize the feedstock used in our anaerobic digestors and improve predictability of how the reactors will behave. It can also be a useful tool to improve flexibility and increase the range of feedstock we can use. This could mean lower greenhouse gas emissions and our costs reduced. We think there is an opportunity to boost our profitability.
Denise Cysneiros, Head of Bioprocess and Optimisation at Future Biogas, University of Surrey
The financial support is part of UKRI's £13m investment in artificial intelligence research to allow the UK’s net zero targets.