UCL Engineering Exchange


Surrey Docks Farm Bio-digester

19 June 2017

UCL Engineering students and staff developed a bio-digester to process the farm's animal waste

An image of Wellington boots in use for gardening as their wearer digs soil

Dr Ilan Adler and the rest of the Surrey Docks Farm team for have won the UCL Public Engagement Unit’s Community Engagement Award for 2017! Staff, students and researchers from UCL’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) worked with the Surrey Docks Farm to develop a biodigester to turn the farm’s animal waste into sustainable energy and liquid fertilizer. 

Surrey Docks Farm is a working farm built on two acres of land in South London. It is a pocket of urban agriculture tucked away amid the bustle of Rotherhithe and the docklands. Opened in 1975, it works with local communities and groups across Southwark to provide opportunities for Londoners to learn about farming and food production.

In 2014, a team of Environmental Engineering students, led by Dr Adler, designed and installed a biodigester at the farm, funded by a Grand Challenges for Sustainable Cities (GCSC) small grant. Animal waste is mixed with rainwater in a large tank before slowly running through a piece of tubing, where the mixture is gradually broken down and decomposed. By the time it reaches the tank at the other end of the tube, it is ready to be used to improve the farm’s compost. The process also produces biogas, which has the potential to replace fossil fuels.

Since its launch, the project has made it to the finals of the international CleanTech Challenge competition. Several other students have conducted research projects building on this work.

Dr Adler said:

‘The Surrey Docks Farm biogas project is allowing students to engage in practical, applied research that can bring enormous tangible benefits to the local community and other parts of the world, particularly to developing countries. It is also a great example of South-North collaboration, where a technology developed in Mexico by a social enterprise is imported and adapted to the conditions of the UK and the EU.’

The project is ongoing, with plans to improve the design of the biodigester. See more photos from the project on the CEGE Facebook page.

This article is from the CEGE News and Events website.