Farm commodity products such as fertilisers need to be made more sustainable and resource–efficient. This will help secure European arable land productivity while also boosting sustainability and resource efficiency of the farming practices. For many years,
mineral fertilisers have been used to intensify crop production to meet the food demand of a growing population. Mineral fertilisers represent 80 % of the market value of all fertilisers in the EU: they are manufactured from feedstock (such as phosphate rocks) imported from third countries or are based on energy-intensive production processes (for example nitrogen fertilisers), all of which are non-renewable resources.
At the time of drafting this Annual Work Plan, a new EU regulation on fertilising products1 was under discussion among the co-legislators with a view to setting common rules for CE-marked fertilising products and level the playing field between mineral and organic fertilising products. This regulation will offer an access to the single market to innovative fertilising products such as those derived from secondary raw materials, whereas they were until now limited to national markets. The legislative proposal also imposes safety requirements to all fertilising products and requires, for instance, coating materials used in certain controlled-release fertilisers to be bio-degradable.
The loss of nutrients with traditional fertilisers has indeed been combated by the introduction of Controlled-Release Fertilisers (CRFs), which can better match the plants’ need for the nutrients over time. However, the use of these CRFs involves the use of plastic polymers, which are not biodegradable and lead to an accumulation of plastic impurities in soil. The new EU regulation on fertilising products addresses the degradability of the coatings of CRFs by stipulating a 90 % conversion of the organic carbon into CO2 in maximum 24 months.
The specific challenge is therefore to concentrate on finding coating polymers that are compliant with the biodegradability parameter in compliance with law, while achieving the controlled release of nutrients in the best possible manner.
Improving the nutrient quality of soils can also be achieved by the application of plant biostimulants, including microorganisms. This could be done by either stimulating plant capacities to absorb nutrients present in the environment, including in air or in soils, by stimulating soil microbiota (known as the ‘prebiotic approach’), or by introducing microorganisms into soil to transform in situ the non-available nutrients present into forms that plants can absorb (known as the ‘probiotic approach’). However, these concepts need to be demonstrated in an industrially relevant environment for an efficient and expanded use throughout Europe.
Another specific challenge is to demonstrate the use of advanced bio-based fertilising products that meet EU rules and that increase the sustainability of fertilising practices and the productivity of the agriculture in Europe. These could be fertilisers from bio-based streams, fully biodegradable coatings for CRFs or the smart use of plant biostimulants, including microorganisms.Scope:
Demonstrate the following three uses in value chains to improve the sustainability of fertilising products and practices in agriculture:
The consortium should be prepared to adapt its tasks (via an amendment to the Grant Agreement) to the final requirements laid down in the EU fertiliser regulation after its adoption, if applicable.
The new bio-based fertilising products should ensure and maintain the sustainability of the soil-plant system, be environmentally friendly and without adverse public health issues, and meet current and proposed regulations and standards.
Proposals should provide data showing evidence of the sustainable availability of the feedstock sources (for example agricultural and agro-industrial waste, animal by-products, by-products of the agro-food industry or sewage sludges), also in view of a further scale-up of the technologies and processes developed.
Proposals should specifically demonstrate the benefits versus the state-of-the-art and existing technologies. This could be done by providing evidence of new processing solutions with higher feedstock and energy efficiencies and new products obtained in terms of sustainability performance.
The Technology Readiness Level (TRL)1 at the end of the project should be 6-7. Proposals should clearly state the starting and target TRLs. The proposed work should enable the technology to achieve the target TRL within the timeframe of the project.
Proposals should include an environmental and economic assessment using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodologies.
Proposals should also include a viability performance check of the developed process(es) based on available standards, certification, accepted and validated approaches, as well as measurement and testing approaches allowing for coming regulatory compliance checks.
Moreover, proposals should also allow for pre- and co-normative research necessary for the needed product quality standards2.
1 Technology Readiness Levels as defined in annex G of the General Annexes to the Horizon 2020 Work Programme: http://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/data/ref/h2020/other/wp/2016-2017/annexes/h2020-wp1617-annex-ga_en.pdf
2 The technical basis of a new standard is usually established through a programme of research termed Pre-Normative Research (PNR), i.e. research undertaken prior to standardisation (normalisation). Such research would be used to demonstrate the feasibility and reliability of the technique or process to be standardised and to investigate its limitations. Once the technique or process has been developed and its boundaries have been explored, then, for new and emerging areas of technology, it would be normal to prepare a 'pre-standard', such as a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) or Technical Specification (TS), to provide a document in a relatively short time frame for evaluation by potential users. The availability of a pre-standard provides a basis for further research, usually termed Co-Normative Research - i.e. research undertaken in conjunction with the standardisation process, to establish a statistical basis for the technique or process, in particular its reproducibility (same user), repeatability (different users) and uncertainty. (http://www.iec.ch/about/globalreach/academia/pdf/academia_governments/handbook-standardisation_en.pdf)Expected Impact: