Innovation & Enterprise


EcoNomad: UCL entrepreneur scales down eco-tech for small farms

Converting farm waste into renewable fuel and fertiliser is usually done on a mammoth scale for agricultural operations. A UCL entrepreneur has scaled down the technology to make it accessible to all.

Dr Ilan Adler, founder of EcoNomad Solutions Ltd

22 November 2018

The idea

Anaerobic digestion, solutions for sustainable resource management and recycling agricultural waste tend to be expensive and developed for large scale operations. Rural communities and smallholding farms who could greatly benefit from sustainable solutions can’t access appropriate technology because it isn’t usually designed on a small and accessible scale.

Dr Ilan Adler from the UCL Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering first noticed this when working in Mexico. He set up a non-governmental organisation (NGO), the International Renewable Resources Institute (IRRI-Mexico), and co-founded a social enterprise, Sistema Biobolsa. Through this, he worked with rural, peri-urban and indigenous communities, teaching and promoting eco-technologies. 

After completing his PhD at UCL and becoming a full-time academic, he worked with environmental engineering students to apply the same principles to UK smallholdings. Successfully installing two prototype biodigesters at Surrey Docks Farm gained Ilan the traction he needed to take the concept further.

A big business idea for local impact

After receiving support and mentoring from UCL Innovation & Enterprise, Ilan applied for a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship 2018 and won one. This provided a salary and seed funding for a year. 

As a result, Ilan was able to launch his business, EcoNomad Solutions Ltd, and has gone on to develop and refine a suite of technologies, including biogas units and rainwater harvesting systems. He has also worked with an inventor on developing patented solar pumping technology.

Ilan is now installing prototypes of all the technologies, which includes a collaboration with Rothamsted Research – one of the oldest agricultural institutions in the world – to set up his latest biogas prototype. He's also completed a market survey of 20 different types of smallholding farms in East Anglia, to ensure EcoNomad will provide usable solutions that have traditionally been out of reach for different types of small farms.

After winning further funding from Santander, Ilan has also installed a solar pump prototype at the CICY research institute in Yucatan, Mexico. This is to test the application of the product in a country with a year-round sunny climate, in preparation for the eventual roll-out of EcoNomad’s products in the developing world.

Early impact

With one product patented and another patent pending, EcoNomad’s products are quickly gaining the right attention. With further prototyping, product design and refinement ongoing, the first products are due to be released to the market by 2019.

UCL environmental engineering students installing biodigesters at Surrey Docks Farm
The earliest prototypes at Surrey Docks Farm have already proven their value, with all gas being re-used on-site for cooking and heating water, while the liquid produced enriches the compost to grow food. The project won a UCL Grand Challenges grant and the prestigious Provost’s Public Engagement Award in 2017. It's also created a tremendous opportunity for UCL students to gain practical experience.

Dr Ilan Adler said: “The biogas project at Surrey Docks Farm engaged my students in a practical, hands-on learning situation. This greatly enhanced their educational experience at UCL and allowed them to have a true positive impact on the community.”

Initially, Ilan's vision is to create appropriately sized, affordable and sustainable solutions that can be replicated in smallholdings across the UK. The application of this eco-tech extends beyond agriculture too and can be rolled out to schools and whole communities. Beyond this, the vast EU agricultural market and developing countries will be prime candidates for making use of EcoNomad’s technology. 


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