The ReNu2Farm project is designed to increase the recycling rates for the plant nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in the primary food production chain in Northwest Europe (NWE). Up to now, farmers have essentially been using mineral fertilisers, for which the EU is heavily dependent on imports. Moreover, the production of mineral fertiliser requires large amounts of energy. Paradoxically, however, there are several regions with a nutrient surplus in NWE. There are also technologies for recovering those nutrients, but until now they have remained little-used by farmers.
The project strives for an exchange of nutrients between the following countries: IE-UK, DE-NL and BE-FR. In each of these areas there are regions with nutrient shortages and surpluses. Nutrient-surplus regions in NWE include the Netherlands, Flanders (Belgium), Bretagne (France) and Ireland. The regions that have great potential to replace mineral fertilisers, due to their high use thereof, are located in Northern France, Wallonia (Belgium), the East of England and Ireland.
First of all, the researchers are investigating the precise current situation on nutrients and technologies in the field of nutrient recovery in NWE. They will then deploy these technologies in practice, for both the production and upcycling of products from recycled nutrients. The largest waste streams for producing these products are sewage sludge, food wastes and manure.
The scientists are considering possible market barriers. They will then adapt the products so that they more closely match the needs of users.
On the basis of desk studies and info sessions with farmers comes an assessment of the regional demand for nutrients and performances of the products. In order to determine the potential for replacement by recycled nutrients, the researchers are collecting information on current fertiliser use and the types of agriculture and crop rotations for each region. From the perspective of the legislation it is also important to know the impacts of the products on the soil and the environment.
Where there are markets for recycled nutrients, what their pricing looks like and what the attitude of farmers and the policy is with respect to them are still open questions right now. The researchers are assessing the economic market value of the products on the basis of production costs and interest amongst the stakeholders. They are identifying legal pressure points regarding conditions and requirements on fertilisation management and transport.
The collected knowledge and techniques are being fed back to the stakeholders via articles, workshops and demonstrations. This will help overcome the knowledge gap amongst farmers. By spreading information and success stories, but also by further expanding to other sectors and regions, farmers will become better able to apply larger amounts of recycled nutrients over the long term.
The long-term goal is for farmers in the involved regions to replace 2% (-108,000 tonnes N, -8,000 tonnes P, -120,000 tonnes K) of the artificial fertiliser with recycled nutrients within five years, and 6% (-324,000 tonnes N, -24,000 tonnes P, -360,000 tonnes K) after ten years.