The REFERTIL is an application oriented science and technology development project contributing to the cost efficient transformation of the organic waste streams from the agriculture and food industry. The key objectives of the REFERTIL project are to improve the currently used compost treatment systems and develop zero emission performance biochar industrial production technologies towards safe and economical nutrient recovery process. Beyond the industrial compost and stabile carbon based biochar technology development, the REFERTIL project provides a strong legislation support to the European Commission for the new EU27 fertiliser regulation, and standardization of the compost/biochar technologies and safe products. The compost and biochar policy support work elements will be completed by September 2013.
The REFERTIL Consortium is led by a Swedish SME industrial partner specialised for advanced zero emission pyrolysis and biochar industrial technology development and engineering since decades. The well balanced mixture of farmer and advanced industrial engineering SMEs, industrial and applied research partners, SME stakeholders and representative from the public sector partners are encouraging the development of proactive cooperation between researchers, industry and relevant public sector stakeholders. The SME and industrial engineering knowledge and practical experiences are combined with business oriented research activities, which cross and refertilization is the clear interest and benefit to SMEs.
The REFERTIL is knowledge and bio based economical, science and technology development with EU wide collaboration for improving technical, economical and environmental efficiency of the bio-waste valorization. As a result it is increasing the agricultural and bio-waste management industrial sectors competitiveness on EU level. For achieving these ambitious goals, qualified EU-wide collaborations formed with different stakeholders proactive involved along with the full supply chain. Beyond the 14 consortium partners from ten countries, over 2000 external stakeholders are connected to our world-wide REFERTIL network. REFERTIL has built up a Stakeholder platform forum for active participation to the REFERTIL policy support works, that directly interconnected us to a European Commission initiated compost/biochar standardization programme. The selected of the REFERTIL Stakeholders’ Platform are the farmers and other enduser’s, organic waste stream industrial producers and professional processors, Government Authorities, investment and business interests, environmental professionals and policy makers targeted from the EU, Australia and worldwide.
EU waste policy and the ‘end-of-waste criteria’ aim at reducing the use of resources and using waste as resources. The valorisation of organic waste and converting into safe biochar/compost products is not only a profitable new industrial sector that creates new jobs, but also sustainable by conservation of natural resources, while minimizing the effects of the economical crisis. Soil is a non-renewable resources having socio-economic and environmental importance and determinate the long term competitiveness in Europe as providing us with food, biomass and raw materials. Soil degradation is a serious problem in Europe. The Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection calls for the use of compost as one of the best sources of stable organic matter from which new humus can be formed in degraded soils. In this context the Phosphorous recycling is key element that can be made from the millions of tons of food grade animal bone waste stream.
Biochar originates from different types of plant and/or animal waste biomass origin carboniferous materials: for multi functional soil enhancement, water retention, natural fertilization and/or carbon negative economical agricultural applications. Biochar is produced under low temperature carbonization conditions at an average 500°C in the absence of air and based on advanced zero emission or near zero emission process design, where all material element streams are recycled and reused into natural and safe products.
The biochar research is currently hot topic in the environmental and agricultural research, where several of these biochar research activities are basic science, not application and not economical oriented. However, few BC technology vendors already matured towards economical, demonstrated and market orientation.Biochar is plant and/or animal biomass origin carboniferous material that is specifically produced and used for soil and environmental improvements. Biochar carbonization production processing and open ecological applications must meet the EU and major international industrial and environmental norms and standards. Both biochar industrial production and commercial applications require official Authority permits. Biochar is not a “fine-grained, highly porous charcoal” made originally for energetic purpose. Versus energetic charcoal, the use of biochar substances in open ecological soil environment requires strict environmental safety and advanced product quality aspects. Many, if not most of the traditional carbon processing technologies are not suitable for safe biochar production under the EU “End-of-Waste” legislation criteria.
Intensive farming practice and human activities have disturbed the natural cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus. Intensive agriculture relies on continual inputs of mined, non-renewable phosphorus and energy –intensive nitrogen supply. It is estimated that human activity has doubled the global amount of reactive nitrogen in circulation; while tripled the amount of phosphorus since the industrial revolution. The mineral phosphate industry and use of chemosynthetic mineral fertilisers causing several environmental damages, including cadmium build up in soil, GHG emission, fluorine emission and Phosphorus run-off in subsurface water base. There is strong need for increased sustainability and closing the nutrient loop in agriculture with the creation of a virtuous cycle between urban and rural areas. In this context, reducing the use of mineral fertilisers in agriculture is important, that can be achieved by recycling and reusing organic waste as safe biochar product. The animal bone based biochar or “bone char” is free from heavy metals and having approx. 30 % P2O5 content. This high P content makes it suitable for application as a slow release natural fertiliser for substituting the mineral phosphate fertilisers. Moreover the compost and biochar products are refertilizing the depleted agricultural soils, improving drought tolerant farm methods and addressing the problem of degrading soil quality in Europe.
The reducing mineral fertilisers and chemicals use in agriculture, recovery of nutrients and resources, incl. N/P are the key scope of the REFERTIL project. The most important objective of the REFERTIL is the closing the nutrient loop by application added value nutrient recycling (N,P and organic) compost- and safe biochar production strategy and improved technology for creation of virtuous cycle between urban and rural areas. The added value and safe transformation of organic waste to high quality and environmental and economical safe efficient compost and biochar products as renewable and sustainable N, P is under increasing pressure in the agriculture. The organic urban waste and agriculture residues are very large resource of N&P and other minerals as well as organic matter, which should be returned to the land as an environmental safe biochar and composed products. Concerning climate protection the soil is a major carbon store which must be protected and increased where possible as soil functions enormously contribute to the mitigation of climate change. Biochar based solid carbon sequestration to agricultural soils can contribute to mitigating climate change.
Photosynthesis is a process used by plants to convert light energy into chemical energy that can be used to fuel the organisms' activities. Carbohydrates, such as sugars, are synthesized from carbon dioxide and water during the process. The plant and animal based biomass material is converting into stabile carbon product (biochar) by carbonisation process preventing the carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere from the decaying biomass. The plant originated biochar products have more than >90% w/w carbon content. This makes it suitable for soil carbon sequestration. In this context the term “carbon-negative” means that we are converting the biomass bounded Earth atmospheric CO2 into a stabile carbon-based biochar product that is safely sequestered into the soil for long term.
The farmers are expecting from the compost and biochar products increased soil fertility, higher yields, better soil structure and better utility of nutrients at lower fertiliser cost. The application of high doses (5-20 tonnes of hectare) of compost and plant based biochar products is not realistic from a farmers’ economical point of view. The maximum economically acceptable application rate for plant based biochar is only 5 t /ha. The situation is different with the bone based biochar, which is having full organic NPK-C fertilizer value with low but efficient doses between 200 – 1000 kg/ha, that provides extra yields and profit in already short term 1-2 years. The farmers are interested in short term profitability at first place and not willing to pay the current high market price for plant based biochar product and possible long term effects 5-20 years. Farmers are positively interested in C content and soil fertility – but good business comes at first. This means that there is need for high and safe quality biochar and compost products at affordable price that use resulting short term profitability.
Compost is humified solid particulate material, which has been sanitised and stabilised; and which confers beneficial effects when it is added to soil, used as growing media constituent, or used in another way in conjunction with plants. Composting is a process of controlled decomposition and humification of biodegradable materials under managed conditions, which is aerobic and which allows the development of temperatures suitable for mesophilic and thermophilic bacteria as a result of biologically produced heat.
The revised Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC) introduces the possibility that certain waste streams that have undergone a recovery operation can cease to be waste, if they fulfil certain criteria - called “End-of-Waste” (EoW) criteria. The EoW criteria are the requirements that have to be fulfilled by a material derived from waste, and which ensure that the quality of the material is such that its use is not detrimental to human health or the environment.
Although the four years project is in year two only, highly promising results achieved. In year 1 detailed analytical assessment of EU27 input organic waste materials has been done, industrial technology and economical application options evaluated. In 2013/2014 extensive field trials with selected biochar and compost products are in progress. Concerning biochar/compost production, environmental, technical, legislative, cost efficiently, benefit and risk evaluation, SWOT analysis of the available biochar producing technologies and materials made. Set up a detailed BIOCHAR technology and product matrix database for analysing and ranking of the available recycling technologies for production of biochar made. Dissemination and transparent visibility programmes started up and actively on progress, especially towards EU wide SME stakeholders.