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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

15 July 2020

Anaerobic digestion, solutions for sustainable resource management and recycling agricultural waste tend to be expensive and developed for large scale operations.

EcoNomad Solutions has redesigned the technology so it's affordable and easy to use for small farms. This allows smallholdings and rural communities to be more sustainable, by recycling their waste and manure, and enables them to stay self-sufficient. 

Advancing ecological innovation

Dr Ilan Adler (UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering) has spent time with rural communities in Mexico promoting eco-technologies. When Ilan completed his PhD at UCL, he became a full-time academic. He then worked with environmental engineering students on sustainable solutions for UK smallholdings.

At Surrey Docks Farm, Ilan installed two prototype biodigesters which turn waste into heat, biogas and liquid nutrients for the soil. The project won a UCL Grand Challenges grant and the prestigious Provost’s Public Engagement Award in 2017. It also created a tremendous opportunity for UCL students to gain practical experience.

As part of the AgRIA project funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), EcoNomad has been further developing its BioNomad biodigester. Additional support has been provided by Rothamsted Research, one of the oldest agricultural institutions in the world, and UCL. The startup is also expanding its product range with a passive solar pump which can supply micro-irrigation systems or drinking water.

Winning funding awards

The now-trademarked BioNomad biodigester is being commercialised with a £140,000 award from the SHAKE Programme. SHAKE, set up in 2019, is a £3.5 million fund available to entrepreneurs who are combating climate change in agriculture and food production. EcoNomad was one of the first three companies to receive investment, with each receiving £140,000.

The EcoNomad team also participated in the Global Challenges Research Fund’s Energy Catalyst Mission to Ethiopia, run by Innovate UK. In Ethiopia, they formed R&D partnerships with the Bahir Dar University as well as solar and renewable energy companies. Together with these stakeholders, EcoNomad won a £280,000 grant to undertake a feasibility study to improve off-grid and water access using passive-thermal technologies. The study will last 12 months and aims to increase the availability of affordable and clean energy.

Support for entrepreneurs

Over several years, Ilan has received advice, support and grants from UCL Innovation & Enterprise. For example, in 2018, he was supported in a successful application for a prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship. 

EcoNomad also undertook a knowledge exchange project, supported by UCL’s Higher Innovation Fund (HEIF), managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise. This involved working with an industrial partner on an online product design process. 

UCL Innovation & Enterprises’ Global Innovation team, through their Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) activities, assisted EcoNomad with identifying new partners in Ethiopia to undertake their feasibility study. The Innovation Advisors helped at every stage from identifying the potential market to the conclusion of the R&D partnership and funding proposal.

Kathryn Walsh, Director of Knowledge Exchange Policy & Practice at UCL Innovation & Enterprise, said: “Ilan and the team at EcoNomad have worked tirelessly in their mission to improve sustainability and waste management on small farms and it’s heartening to see their solution gain real traction. We will be working with EcoNomad in the future on exciting new projects in this field.”

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