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Closing the nutrient cycle by using bio-digestion waste derivatives as synthetic fertilizer substitutes : a field experiment

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Meers, Erik
Michels, Evi
Ghekiere, Greet
Accoe, Frederik
Tack, Filip
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In the transition from a fossil to a bio-based economy, it has become an important challenge to maximally recycle valuable nutrients that currently end up in waste streams. Nutrient resources are rapidly depleting. Significant amounts of fossil energy are required for the production of synthetic fertilizers, whereas costs for energy and fertilizers are increasing. Meanwhile, biogas production through anaerobic digestion produces nutrient-rich digestates, which could potentially be reused as green fertilizers in agriculture, thereby providing a sustainable substitute for synthetic fertilizers. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of using bio-digestion waste derivatives instead of synthetic fertilizers and/or animal manure on soil and crop production. In a field trial, nutrient balances were assessed and the physicochemical soil fertility and quality were evaluated. The biogas yield of the harvested energy crops was determined. An economic and ecological evaluation was conducted. Application of bio-digestion waste derivatives induced small, albeit statistically insignificant improvement in crop yield, soil fertility and quality compared to current common practices using animal manure and synthetic fertilizers. Moreover, the use of these products might stimulate nutrient mobilization from the soil, thereby increasing the use efficiency of soil minerals. For all reuse scenarios the calculated economic and ecological benefits were significantly higher than the reference. It is clear that the reuse of bio-based products as nutrient supply in agriculture should be stimulated in European legislation. Further field research is on-going in order to validate the results and evaluate the impact on soil quality in the longer term.

Biomass and bioenergy, Vol. 55, 175–189 (2013)
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Anaerobic digestion , Digestate processing , Cradle-to-cradle nutrient recycling , Bio-based fertilizers , Sustainable agriculture , Environmental management
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