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Ecological and economic benefits of the application of bio-based mineral fertilizers in modern agriculture

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Meers, Erik
Michels, Evi
Buysse, Jeroen
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 recuperate valuable nutrients coming from waste streams. Nutrient resources are rapidly depleting, significant amounts of fossil energy are used for the production of chemical fertilizers, whereas costs for energy and fertilizers are increasing. In the meantime, biogas production through anaerobic digestion produces nutrient-rich digestates. In high-nutrient regions, these products cannot or only sparingly be returned to agricultural land in its crude unprocessed form. The consequent processing of this digestate requires a variety of technologies producing lots of different derivatives, which could potentially be re-used as green fertilizers in agriculture. As such, a sustainable alternative for fossil-based mineral fertilizers could be provided. This study aims to characterize the physico-chemical properties of digestates and derivatives, in order to identify the fertilizer value and potential bottlenecks for agricultural re-use of these products, in line with European legislative constraints. In addition, the economic and ecological benefits of substituting conventional fertilizers by bio-based alternatives are quantified and evaluated. Waste water from acidic air scrubbers for ammonia removal shows potential for application as N-S fertilizer. Analogously, concentrates resulting from membrane filtrated liquid fraction of digestate show promise as N-K fertilizer. Substituting conventional fertilizers by digestate derivatives in different cultivation scenarios can result in significant economic and ecological benefits for the agriculturist. Starting from theoretical scenarios outlined in the current study, field test validation will be required to confirm the potential substitution of fossil-based mineral fertilizers by bio-based alternatives.

Biomass and bioenergy, Vol. 49, 239-248 (2013)
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Anaerobic digestion , Digestate processing , Cradle-to-cradle nutrient recycling , Green fertilizers , Sustainable agriculture , Environmental economics
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