SYSTEMIC: Circular solutions for biowaste and manure

The EU-project SYSTEMIC will demonstrate economically viable business cases for nutrient recovery from biowaste, animal manure and sewage sludge. It will contribute to the expansion of nutrient recovery across the European Union and thereby facilitate the move to a more circular economy.

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are crucial for plant growth. In the EU, half of the phosphorus and nitrogen applied annually to croplands is derived from non-renewable sources such as phosphate rock or is produced by processes which consume large amounts of fossil fuels like natural gas. In our present system, a high percentage of valuable nutrients are lost through the incineration or disposal of waste (like organic matter and nitrogen) or through emissions of nutrients to the environment which causes eutrophication problems (nitrogen and phosphorus enrichment of waters).

These inefficiencies in the system, combined with population growth and the enlargement of the livestock sector, are having severe effects on soil, air and water quality and threatening the long-term sustainability of EU agriculture. The recovery and reuse of nutrients from bio-waste, animal manure, and sewage sludge can help to turn this situation around.

SYSTEMIC will contribute to reducing the reliance on non-renewable resources, lower greenhouse gas emissions, reducing soil, air and water pollution by using fertilisers which meet with the crop requirements (rather than the direct spreading of organic residues), and helping livestock farmers and urban centres to manage their waste.

Demonstration of nutrient recovery and reuse

The project focussed on five anaerobic digesters were owners invested in full-scale technologies for recovery of nutrients from digestate. The goal was to produce biobased fertilising products meeting demands of regional farmers thereby reducing costs for digestate handling and disposal. The reports give a detailed overview of the technical aspects, mass- and energy balances and quality of the biobased fertilising products.

Business case analysis

The project made an assessment of the economics of the central biogas plants including the production and sale of biobased fertilisers. A tool has been developed allowing other plant owners to quickly calculate their economic Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and compare these with other plant owners.

Quality of biobased fertilising products

Biobased fertilising products were tested in lab- and fieldtrials to assess the agronomic effectiveness as well as losses to the environment. In addition, an life-cycle-analysis (LCA) was set up to assess the impact of anaerobic digestion in combination with nutrient recovery on greenhouse gas emissions.

Opportunities for other biogas plants

SYSTEMIC also explored opportunities for ten other biogas plants that were spread over Europe treating different types of feedstock. Detailed information and opportunities for nutrient recovery are presented in the deliverables below.

NutriCas Tool

This tool enables the user to easily calculate the amount and composition of biobased fertilising products for a number of different technical solutions and a given composition of the digestate. The tool also gives an estimate of the investment costs and operational costs.

SYSTEMIC policy advice

The project team formulated several advices for policy makers to facilitate the transition towards a circular economy for nutrients.