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The European Nutrient Event, Basel, 18-19 October 2017, was organised by the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform, FHNW School of Life Sciences, the Phos4You InterReg Nordwest Europa project, and the German Phosphorus Platform (DPP). The final report can be found on this page and in this PDF.

This second day meeting, Basel, 19th October 2017, was organised by FHNW School of Life Science, the Phos4You InterReg project, the European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform (ESPP), the German Phosphorus Platform (DPP) and Over 25 EU (Horizon 2020, LIFE, Interreg) and national funded R&D projects, along with participants from industry and policy makers, discussed research orientations, opportunities for project coordination and synergies and needs for future research and demonstration activities.

This is the second such European meeting, following the first EU nutrient recycling projects and policy workshop, Berlin, 2015 (see SCOPE Newsletter n° ), organised by ESPP, the European Commission and P-REX. The conclusions are published by the European Commission at

Burkhard Teichgräber, Lippeverband, Lead Partner of the Phos4You project, explained that the associated public waterboards Emschergenossenschaft and Lippeverband treat sewage from nearly 4 million people. Recycling of phosphorus is considered an important sustainability objective. But due to industrial discharges into the wastewater, the sewage sludge in the Emschergenossenschaft has been incinerated since 1970’s. In rural regions of Lippeverband, sludge has been used in agriculture wherever feasible, in accordance with regulations. However, concerns about contaminants such as pharmaceuticals or micro-plastics further push to move to sludge incineration and to look for alternatives to recover nutrients. Around 90% of the sewage sludge incinerated currently goes to mono-incineration. The waterboards are currently looking at an add-on process to recover phosphorus from an existing sludge incineration line, and a new line to process sludge directly to a fertiliser product

Eric Jakob, Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, explained that Switzerland aims to ensure economic framework conditions which enable business development and innovation, including stability and predictability, stakeholder consultation, and a balance between environmental and economic objectives. In this context, the Swiss phosphorus recycling obligation offers opportunities for Switzerland to be an innovation leader.

Chris Thornton, ESPP, summarised EU policies driving nutrient stewardship, from the EU Waste Water Treatment Directive and Nitrates Directive in 1991, through to the circular economy approach today. Important policies are the inclusion of phosphate rock and P4 on the EU Critical Raw Materials list, the revision of the EU Fertilisers Regulation (and STRUBIAS = criteria for struvite, biochars, ash derived products), R&D funding, standards … He presented a number of examples, showing that companies, farmers’ cooperatives and municipalities are already today successfully recycling thousands of tonnes of nutrients and organic carbon from manure, animal by products and sewage.

EU R&D funding for actions on nutrients

Stefania Rocca, EASME (Executive Agency for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises), presented funded projects relevant to nutrient recycling under Horizon 2020 and LIFE over the last two years, and opportunities in 2018-2019.

Relevant Horizon 2020 projects funded in 2016, under the “Industry 2020 in the Circular Economy” calls for CIRC-01 and CIRC-02, include large innovation projects such as Systemic, Run4Life, Water2Return (present in Basel). Decision is underway for large demonstration projects under 2017 call.

In 2018 and 2019, new calls under Horizon 2020 Societal Challenge 5 (Climate action, environment, resource efficiency and raw materials) will address "Connecting economic and environmental gains – the Circular Economy", and including topics on how to remove contaminants from secondary materials (SC5-01) and on water-smart economy and society (SC5-04).

Projects are also possible under Horizon 2020 bottom-up calls such as the SME Instrument and FTI (Fast Track to Innovation), as well as the LIFE programme. LIFE covers two sub-programmes: environment (including nature) and climate action, and supports the focus on circular economy.

Gaëtan Dubois, European Commission, DG Agriculture, presented the Horizon 2020 Societal Challenge Agriculture and Food (SC2) and the actions of EIP-AGRI (European Innovation Partnership). EIP-AGRI aims to make links between R&D under H2020 and the European rural development policy (ERDP).

Under Horizon 2020, several major projects funded in 2016 or pending decision 2017 concern farm recycling and agriculture impacts on water. Calls in 2018-2019 will address valorisation of urban biowastes, organic agriculture fertilisers from biogas digestate and closing nutrient cycles.

Another possibility under Horizon 2020 is “Thematic Networks” to compile “knowledge ready for practice”. Such a network could address synergies between the different current and upcoming R&D activities relevant to nutrients and make links to industry and stakeholders for policy and uptake. However, such networks are only funded for specific duration, so the objective could be to establish a process or structure which could then be self-maintained.

The EIP-AGRI brought together a “Focus Group” of experts on recycled nutrients in 2016 (summary of conclusions in SCOPE Newsletter n°124, report online). These groups aim to identify research needs and themes for “Operational Groups” (see below).

The Recycled Nutrients Focus Group identified the need for research in the following areas:

  • Organic contaminants
  • LCA methodologies/risk assessment
  • Assessment of Nutrient Use Efficiency
  • Acceptance of the use of recycled fertilisers by farmers, food industry, public consumers
  • Development of tailor-made recycled nutrient products
  • Use of remote sensing for precision farming
  • Development of farm tools for nutrient content determination and soil carbon balance assessment

These conclusions will input into future EU R&D funding definitions.

EIP-AGRI Operational Groups

Operational Groups (OGs) are local, multi-stakeholder actions, set up to address specific challenges or opportunities, using Rural Development Funding (RDF). Thus, they come from bottom-up local initiatives, funded depending on thematic possibilities in each Region’s RDF Programme, with the objective of enabling wider dissemination of results and learning. To date 98/118 Regions include Operational Groups in their Programme, and over 3000 Groups are expected to be launched 2014-2020. Some OGs closely related to nutrients recycling have already started in different regions.

Synergies between R&D projects

The meeting enabled 24 R&D projects relevant to nutrient recovery to rapidly present (1 slide each, and also a number of PhD students working on phosphorus recovery, enabling all participants to identify each project and make contacts. The ESPP catalogue of R&D projects, identifying around 100 R&D projects relating to nutrient management, was circulated at the meeting ( facilitated this networking. The following projects presented their projects: AgroCycle, ALGAECAN, ASHES, Biorefine Cluster Europe, BONUS PROMISE, DECISIVE, DOP, ENRICH, IMPROVE-P, INCOVER, Newfert, Nurec4org, Phorwärts, Phos4You, QUB Phosphorus from wastewater, RAVITA, RichWater, Run4Life, SABANA, SMART-Plant, SYSTEMIC, The Resource Container, Water2Return and 3R2020+.

Several of the projects and technologies are ESPP members (Phos4You, Phos4Life/Zurich Kanton/ ExtraPhos/Budenheim, Ecophos, Systemic, SMART-Plant, ENRICH/Cetaqua, Run4Life ) enabling dissemination of their results through ESPP’s network and publications, and contacts with ESPP’s industry and policy maker membership.

This showed that there are a number of different phosphorus recovery and nutrient recycling demonstration sites and installations in projects now underway (and further ones will be launched soon, see above), with important potential for exchange of experience and comparison of results. Industry partners of projects present in Basel show the interest for this work. The projects cover different geographical areas, sectors, type of research, topics and waste/residue flows to be recycled.

Parallel sessions

Five parallel sessions discussed enabled the projects and participants to exchange, with the following conclusions:

Recycled nutrient product qualities and standards. Rapporteur: Oscar Schoumans, Wageningen Environmental Research

  • Plant nutrient availability assays: provide important information, but should not be regulated. Industry and farmers will identify which products work
  • Variability in organic-based recycled materials: farmers are accustomed to managing variability: however measurement standards and real-time measurement systems should be developed
  • Organic contaminants are an important issue for recycled product acceptance: regulatory action is needed

Nutrient recovery in the sewage works of the future. Rapporteur Nicolas Morales Pereira, FCC Aqualia

  • Potential for integration of nutrient recovery into innovative new water treatment systems
  • Wide range of technologies and approaches
  • New business models are necessary
  • Farmer and consumer acceptance of recycled products is a key challenge

Life Cycle -Analysis (LCA) and -Costing (LCC). Rapporteur Marianne Thomsen, Aarhus University

  • Discussion of LCA ‘Functional Unit’ and System Boundaries
  • Issues with data: often missing, not public, out of date (based on outdated processes), difficulty to move from specific installation data to generic
  • Need for work between projects to ensure coherent methodologies

Technology transfer from sewage to/from manures and other streams. Rapporteur: Emilie Snauwaert, Flemish Coordination Centre for Manure Processing

  • Challenge: downscaling to reliable, small-scale, simple-to-operate recovery technologies for rural areas
  • Importance of product standards for recycled fertilisers (expected with EU Fertiliser Regulation)
  • Need for funding of:
    - farmer investments
    - demonstration sites, at different scales and different contexts, covering both recovery techniques and the quality of end-products
    - cross border collaboration
    - consumer education about the need to recycle nutrients
  • Policy and regulation are key drivers for change

Nutrient recovery: how to move from R&D to implementation. Rapporteur: Maelenn Poitrenaud, SEDE Environnement (Veolia).

  • Prepare implementation: technical assessment, market analysis, risk assessment, business plan, objectives and planning, milestones
  • Need to manage IP (intellectual property)
  • Develop strategic partnerships: final users (e.g. farming organisations), investors

Newtrient manure treatment technology evaluation & catalogue

Steven Rowe, Newtrient (representing nearly all of US dairy producers presented via Skype this organisation’s online inventory and evaluation tool for manure processing technologies and process suppliers (see SCOPE Newsletter n°125).

Over 220 technologies have been evaluated, of which over 180 are now in the online catalogue. Evaluations are based on economics, transparency and commercial viability including whether the technology is today operational on-farm, presence of supplier and after-sales, assessment of on-farm operating cases. Around 2/3 of the technologies currently in the catalogue address nutrient recycling.

Steve Rowe underlined that Newtrient is interested to speak with European manure processing technology suppliers and on-farm case studies.

Steve Rowe, Newtrient, will be present at ManuResources, Eindhoven 27-28 November. You should register and then use the ManuResource Conference website Programme -> Matchmaking function to request to meet him there.

Conclusions for future actions

A final panel discussed needs for future actions and possible coordination between projects, with David Scaglione, Gruppo CAP water utility Milan region, Marja-Liisa Tapio-Biström, Finland Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Sílvia López Palau, Suez / Cetaqua, moderated by Chris Thornton, ESPP.

Panellists noted that technology is not today the obstacle to nutrient recovery and recycling but rather:

  • Legal framework
  • Need to engage stakeholders to ensure that recovered products are adapted to farmers’ requirements
  • Promote acceptance of use of recycled nutrients by stakeholders such as the food industry, consumers

However, as well as pilot scale demonstration of new technologies, full-scale demonstration of nutrient recovery is important, integrated into resource and carbon efficient water and waste management. Cost and technology assessment of these operating systems is important to provide information to industry and policy makers.

Sewage biosolids management is a major operating cost for sewage works: real data on cost impacts of nutrient recycling is essential (based on full-scale operations, not pilots or estimates).

Research needs

Proposals for future research needs were put forward:

  • Maintaining acceptance and ensuring safety and soil quality in sewage biosolids use on crops
  • Integrating nutrient recycling and organic farming
  • Digital tools for nutrient management
  • Rethinking the food system to integrate nutrient stewardship and return of organic carbon to soil
  • Assess emerging contaminants in biosolids and manure, and how to reduce these upstream or in treatment systems
  • Promote an independent panel and data base, for evaluation of nutrient recycling technologies, systems and costs
  • Development of high-quality recycled nutrient products and their use in precision farming
  • Demonstration plants in different regions, different types of waste / water, different treatment systems
  • Developing the sewage works / waste system of tomorrow, designed as a resource factory rather than pollution abatement

These objectives require collaboration between agricultural and environmental stakeholders and policy makers.

Proposals for joint actions

In order to move forward, proposals included:

  • Establish a Mediterranean network on nutrient recycling, maybe within ESPP, addressing the specific regional challenges such as water reuse, Mediterranean agricultural systems and crops
  • Structure further cooperation between the different nutrient-related R&D projects present, such as joint dissemination, back-to-back events at important industry trade fairs (water and waste, food industry, bioeconomy …)
  • Organise a further R&D projects meeting, to follow on from this one, in 2018, to involve the newly funded EU projects (see above), projects not here, etc.

The aim would be to have a continuous exchange between nutrient R&D projects: avoid the stop-and-go which has resulted in the past from meetings too far apart (Berlin March 2015, Basel October 2017) and from coordination organised by projects (three year duration).

Conference outcomes, slides and programme


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