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The new European research project LEX4BIO sets out to optimize the use of nutrient rich-side streams in agriculture. The project, which will kick-off with a meeting to be held 12 and 13 June in Helsinki, aims to identify best solutions for decreasing the dependency on imported fertilisers, closing the nutrient cycles and improving the sustainability of European farming systems. The University of Amsterdam (UvA) is one of the 21 participating universities and companies in the 4 year, 6 million euro research project coordinated by the Luke Natural Resources Institute of Finland.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The UvA contributions are from researchers Dr Chris Slootweg of the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS), and Dr Boris Jansen and Dr John R. Parsons of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED).

Utilizing nutrient-rich side-streams

The environmental impact of European agriculture is to a large extent caused by imported mineral phosphate and by nitrogen fertilisers. Phosphorus resources are finite, and the production of nitrogen fertilizers is energy intensive, causing greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, nutrient-rich side-streams and organic waste remain under-utilised. The new Horizon 2020 research project LEX4BIO aims at replacing mineral fertilizers with bio-based fertilizers (BBFs) from these waste streams. The research concerns the mapping of nutrient-rich side-streams, estimating their nutrient contents and providing necessary technologies for producing safe BBFs.

HIMS researcher Dr Chris Slootweg will contribute to the assessment of organic contaminants and heavy metal salts in recovered nutrients from urban mines. He will also develop strategies to optimize their re-use and recycling into high-quality fertilizers, thereby contributing to a circular nutrient economy.

IBED researchers Dr Boris Jansen and Dr John R. Parsons will contribute to the assessment of the environmental impact of bio-based fertilisers by screening them for their contents of pharmaceuticals and other organic contaminants using high-resolution mass spectrometry. The bioavailability and fate of these contaminants in soils will be determined in collaboration with other project partners. Adding to this, they will perform small-scale greenhouse experiments to determine whether there is an uptake of the contaminants by crop plants, and any potential impact on food safety.

Agronomic efficiency and safety

Image: Natural Resources Institute Finland. Click to enlarge (opens in new window).

In LEX4BIO, crop response to phosphorus- and nitrogen-based BBFs is evaluated in various growing conditions across Europe. The aim is to identify BBFs with the best agronomic efficiency and to guarantee food and feed safety and human health. The main risks in utilizing BBFs relate to harmful organic substances, such as antibiotics, and their possible transfer into the food chain, or increased antibiotic resistance in agricultural soils. In addition to organic contaminants, the risk of heavy metals entering the food chain after application of BBFs is also assessed.

LEX4BIO’s consortium consists of 21 partners from 14 European countries, including research institutes, universities, SMEs and industry partners. The project has a budget of €6 million starts in June 2019 and lasts until May 2023.