Lancaster University scientists are leading research looking at formulating sustainable fertilisers from renewable energy waste.
This new area of research aims to produce a sustainable, environmentally-friendlier source of soil conditioner and crop fertiliser that could also reduce costs to farmers and potentially, with wide-spread take-up, help to slow down rising food prices.
The collaborative project, which also includes Stopford Energy and Environment Limited, the James Hutton Institute and Aqua Enviro Limited, builds upon research originally conducted by Stopford looking at using a mixture of digestates, derived from anaerobic digestion, and ash, from burnt biomass, as an alternative to existing crop fertilisers.
Almost all existing fertilisers, such as phosphorous and nitrate-based products, are produced using energy-intensive methods involving the use of oil and gas. In addition phosphate-based fertiliser relies on the mining of phosphate, a finite and unsustainable resource, and a production process using various toxic chemicals.
As well as providing significant environmental benefits by reducing reliance on fossil fuels, a successful digestate-ash fertiliser would also reduce costs and provide additional income to biomass and anaerobic digestion operators. This could make these forms of renewable energy, which could meet more than 15 per cent of UK energy demand by 2020, more appealing to investors as ash is currently expensively dumped at landfill.
It could also help to improve food security and reduce costs to farmers as production of digestate-ash fertiliser would not be linked to the global price of oil and gas.