Could pond waste be the 'new' fertiliser?

May 22, 2013

The University of Stirling is to lead a new project to develop a strategy for using nutrient-rich aquatic biomass waste – from ponds, wetlands and other water-bodies – in farming, as an environmentally sustainable alternative to synthetic fertiliser.

The , entitled ReBALAN:CE (Recycling Biomass to Agricultural LANd: Capitalising on Eutrophication) is being funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. The six month catalyst grant will enable the team – which includes researchers from Bangor University and the James Hutton Institute – to identify pressing research needs and priorities in the area of resource recovery from waste.

The project's lead investigator, Dr David Oliver from Stirling's School of Natural Sciences says: "The project will scope out the risks and benefits of recycling and algal biomass back to . In this way it will contribute to a shift in current conceptualisation of 'waste' management – to redress the current imbalance – whereby too much focus is placed on the economic benefits.

"In a wider context, effective and sustainable must take account of the often unquantified and uncertain trade-offs for managing wastes across the environment. For example, whilst recovering nutrients from aquatic plant and algal biomass makes economic sense because of the soaring costs of fertiliser, this is only one part of a complex socio-economic-ecological system.

"We need to combine economics with the safeguarding of human health and protection of key , such as the provision of clean and safe recreational and drinking water. We also need to appreciate the social and political barriers that may hinder or promote efficient nutrient recovery from this 'waste' by-product."

The project team is tasked with framing some important emerging questions that will need innovative science and integrated solutions for 2020 and beyond.

Dr Richard Quilliam, Project Co-Investigator and Lecturer in Environmental Biology at the University of Stirling, says: "By 2050 there are predicted to be shortages in the global supply of essential minerals used in synthetic fertilisers.

"The use of aquatic plant and algal biomass therefore provides a significant waste source to target for recovery and re-use – in order to 'close the loop' on nutrient transfers from land to water."

He adds: "The potential role for aquatic plant and algal biomass to be made into biochar – a type of charcoal used to enhance soil productivity – as a novel approach to re-cycle nutrients, is another dimension of resource recovery from waste by-products that might deliver multiple benefits for wider society."

Dr Oliver believes there are a number of additional policy-related dimensions to debate, including whether recycled biomass material should be reclassified as non-waste in terms of regulation and licensing.

"By pooling the cross-disciplinary expertise assembled in this project, we will identify where improvements in fundamental understanding are necessary. This will enable us to deliver step changes in 'waste' management for environmental benefits and help refine regulatory policy and practice to support this."

  • The project will bring together an interdisciplinary team of experts from across academic, policy and stakeholder organisations.
  • It will facilitate knowledge exchange by cutting across traditional academic disciplines and integrating economic, social, environmental and health-related dimensions.
  • At the end of the catalyst project, the team aims to take forward the emerging research priorities within a larger programme of work.
  • The ReBALAN:CE research team has launched a new website,, which will provide updates on the progress of this catalyst project.

Explore further: CO2 emissions set to reach new 40 billion ton record high in 2014

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Big pig poo problem solved

May 20, 2013

An Australian led-project to turn 1.4 million tonnes of Chinese pig poo into alternative energy and fertiliser has been hailed in a national science award.

Towards better recovery of waste resources

Jan 16, 2013

A considerable amount of valuable raw materials is lost in waste utilization and processing chains. It would be worth, for example, effecting better recovery of the valuable metals contained in electronic equipment. Research ...

Pilot plant cleans waste water and creates fuel

Sep 16, 2011

A new industrial plant that uses algae to clean waste water has opened in Gloucestershire, run by scientists from the University’s Department of Biology and Biochemistry, and environmental innovation ...

Recommended for you

World greenhouse emissions threaten warming goal

7 hours ago

Emissions of greenhouse gases are rising so fast that within one generation the world will have used up its margin of safety for limiting global warming to 2°C (3.6°F), an international team of scientists ...

Tens of thousands join London climate march

7 hours ago

Tens of thousands of people in London joined a global day of protest Sunday to demand action on climate change, among them British actress Emma Thompson who said the challenge to save the planet was like ...

UN summit to test commitment to climate fund

8 hours ago

A global fund created to spearhead climate change financing faces a key test at a UN summit this week when it looks to the leaders of the industrialised world to stump up billions of dollars to fill its underflowing ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 23, 2013
Seriously? This is news? More like reinventing the wheel and claiming it as one's own idea.