Closing nutrient and carbon cycles

Organic carbon and nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium determine soil fertility. They are therefore essential for a nourishing soil and thus for growing healthy crops. In the Netherlands, many agricultural soils suffer from a carbon shortage, due to the removal of crops.

In this research theme we aim to close organic matter and nutrients cycles most efficiently by system engineering and technological innovation.

Recovery nutrients and carbon

Although nutrients are not limiting yet, some have finite reserves for example phosphorus. Nitrogen is not limiting and sufficiently present in air. But synthesizing nitrogen, suitable for agriculture, costs a lot of energy. To prevent carbon shortages in agriculture, and deal with nutrients efficiently, carbon and nutrients present in waste streams should be recovered for reuse in agriculture. However, currently organic carbon nor nutrients are hardly recovered from waste for reuse.

To close carbon and nutrients cycles, ETE scientists develop strategies and technologies to preserve and recover these elements from waste streams. In addition, they evaluate the most efficient and effective methods to nourish soils using these ingredients: what is the best method to make the most suitable compost? How to prevent nutrient flushing from soils and how can emissions like CO2 be minimized?

Research areas

The most important research areas contributing to closing carbon and nutrient cycles, and nourishing agricultural soil most effectively are:

  • Closing organic carbon and nutrient cycles at a regional level. The potential to recycle organic carbon and nutrients on a local scale is largely unexplored, while it offers the advantage of minimized transport. The potential of this decentralized recycling is investigated by modelling the agro-food-waste system, including the implementation of innovative technologies for increased recycling
  • In the Resource Dynamo project, spatial and temporal nutrient cycles, are modelled. In a circular system, the supply and demand of nutrients need to be balanced in space and time. In this research area, we explore how this can be achieved with the highest resolution and precision, by taking nutrient supplies from buildings and specific geographical locations into account, as well as the nutrient demand from individual agricultural fields