Couple of months ago, we received an email concerning our first physical REFLOW meeting which was planned to take place in Spain. To be honest, I was skeptical about the whole travel plan because of the travel restrictions placed by every country and at the same time was super excited to meet my colleagues and get some sunshine.
You may ask why sunshine?
Well, I am currently on my secondment in Ireland at the university of Limerick and, Irish weather is a bit too unpredictable.
I googled once, ‘ how many days does it rain in Ireland in a year, and the answer was 374 days..” Funny right??
However, the gloomy days with rain and dark clouds are overshadowed by the hospitality of the people here. I found them to be friendly and cheerful, even though we were not on the same page on some topics!
Some more context: I will be in Ireland for 6 months to complete 3 secondments, 2 at the university of Limerick and one at BHSL. BHSL is an Irish agri-tech company and has developed the patented fluidized bed technology (FBC) to convert poultry manure into energy. This energy can be used to meet the farm energy needs such as generating electricity, heating, and cooling. I will be there for 2 months to incinerate the dried dairy sludge in FBC to generate dairy ash, the pivotal component of my research.
My research goal is to produce pure dicalcium phosphate (DCP) from dairy ashes and to commercialize the DCP. Lab and pilot scale trials to produce DCP will be completed in Prayon, a major producer of phosphates based in Belgium, which is my host country in this project.
Months passed and finally the day was nearing when we had to travel to Spain. The travel restrictions were mostly lifted and as long as we had the vaccination, flying was easy. And I had been looking forward to going to Spain as I had never visited it before. Glad, I could check off one of my “must visit cities in the world” list.
The meeting was for 2 weeks, 9 days in Vic, a city located a few miles north of Barcelona, and 4 days in Barcelona. Vic was a bit cold and foggy in the mornings, but the afternoons were sunny. The meeting started with talks from Sergio Salas – UVIC, JJ Leahy – REFLOW project coordinator and John Mulcahy, REFLOW project manager followed by ESR presentations. I was happy to learn more about the research of my colleagues as well as to know them in-person.
During our time in Vic, we attended seminars on waste management and workshops on entrepreneurship and academic proposal writing. The exciting fun parts of the meeting were on weekends which included the day tour to La Fageda, a Spanish dairy industry, then a visit to the pilot plant constructed by BetaTech center and its partners at a pig farm in Granja Cal Ros within the FERTIMANURE project, and last but not the least, a team building cooking activity for all ESRs in Barcelona.
FERTIMANURE site visit with team
The highlight of these outdoor events was the La Fageda trip.
La Fageda d’en Jordà is the iconic volcanic forest land in Girona covered with beech trees. A few minutes’ walk into the forest and one could instinctively forget all their worries and enter a state of peace and mindfulness. It’s an ideal place for hikers and photographers-to-be. While our guide was explaining about the history of the forest, I was busy admiring the beauty of mother nature.
Cristóbal Colón, the founder of La Fageda dairy farm, enjoyed the forest so much that he decided to have the dairy industry installed close to it. And there’s more to it – he used to work in hospitals before he started running the dairy industry and thought patients with mental illness not only need medical attention, but they also need a purpose in life. This was another driver for him to set up the dairy plant near the forest. The work force there now also includes people facing mental disabilities with supervision of course, but now they have a purpose in life. The plant hoards several cows and calves and we had fun watching them.
The guide then showed us the technologies they use to convert fresh milk into various products. Their sustainable development model comprises of the composting plant, physical-chemical and biological treatment plant, and biomass plant, thus contributing to circular economy.
At the end of the tour, we had lunch which included yogurts, jams, milk (which tasted super sweet) from the plant and sandwiches as well. I also had the opportunity to meet Mr. Colón, but due to the language barrier we kept ourselves to smiles and hellos. Still worth seeing the man who inspires many.
Guided tour in La Fageda
I did not really want to leave Spain after 2 weeks of fun, laughter, and excitement as I would be returning to rain again in Ireland. Every day was different and the joy to be with colleagues from the project for the first time was out of the world. With a heavy heart, I had to say goodbye to Spain, but I am going to definitely visit it again.
Me with future customers