Scientists at Aqua Enviro are developing a sustainable fertiliser from waste derived from renewable energy generation which could improve food security and potentially slow down rising food prices.
The new fertiliser could provide a sustainable alternative to fossil fuel derived products and reduce costs to farmers.
It could also make these forms of renewable energy more appealing to investors, as waste ash is currently expensively dumped in landfill.
Aqua Enviro will be working together with Lancaster University on the project in collaboration with Stopford Energy and Environment Limited and the James Hutton Institute.
The research builds upon studies originally conducted by Stopford which looked at using a mixture of nutrient rich material left over from anaerobic digestion and ash from burnt biomass, as an alternative to existing crop fertilisers.
The three-year project has received £856,484 funding from NERC, the Natural Environment Research Council, and will progress through laboratory trials to field trials.
Currently fertilisers which use phosphorus and nitrate based chemicals are produced using fossil fuel energy intensive methods involving the use of oil and gas which are limited resources. In addition, phosphate-based fertiliser production also relies on the mining of phosphate, a finite resource, which uses toxic chemicals during the production process.
The new crop fertiliser to be developed by experts at Aqua Enviro will provide significant environmental benefits by reducing reliance on fossil fuels. It will also reduce costs and provide additional income to biomass and anaerobic digestion operators.
Anaerobic digestion, used as a form of renewable energy, could potentially meet up to 15 per cent of the UK’s energy demand by 2020.
Paul Lavender, Business Development Manager at Aqua Enviro, said: “We are delighted to be taking part in this project which draws expertise from a range of disciplines, developing new sustainable bio-fertiliser products to deliver a range of environmental and financial benefits.”
Professor Kirk Semple, from the Lancaster Environment Centre, added: “The aim of the research is to modify the by-products from anaerobic digestion and biomass energy plants to create a new, safe and sustainable source of nutrients for agriculture.”
“This would reduce pressure on natural resources and develop a new market for problematic by-products of the bioenergy industry.”
“The project represents an excellent collaboration between academia and industry to address some of the major challenges facing food and energy security. Although the project is based here in the UK, we believe there is exciting potential to produce a sustainable alternative to existing fertiliser across the globe.”