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Eco-Friendly Fertilizers
August 1, 2014   
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Can the production of fertilizers be a form of environmental protection? Yes, if the fertilizers are produced from waste.

This original idea of producing phosphate fertilizers from waste has been developed by a research consortium led by Prof. Henryk Górecki. His team of chemists from the Wrocław University of Technology in southwestern Poland has teamed up with engineers from the New Chemical Syntheses Institute in Puławy in east-central Poland and agricultural chemistry experts from the University of Warmia and Mazury in the northeastern city of Olsztyn. Such fertilizers are less expensive than those conventionally produced in a factory.

The scientists are focusing on the use of phosphorus. This element is not available in sufficient quantities in nature for the production of fertilizers. But it is produced in the wastewater treatment process in the form of phosphates.

Phosphates are the main source of phosphorus in nature. Phosphorus is one of the key macronutrients that plants need to live. When there is a deficiency of phosphorus plants grow slower and are dwarfish; their nutritional value decreases.

Plants need three key ingredients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is not a problem; there is plenty of it in the air. Potassium also occurs in nature, in the form of salt. The biggest problem is phosphorus, which is scarce in nature, and its deposits are running out. So it is important to recover as much of this element from waste as possible. There is a lot of phosphorus in bones and in various kinds of agri-food industry waste. However, this phosphorus is not completely absorbed by plants. The trick is to find a way to enhance this absorption while also recovering the phosphorus that was until now lost irretrievably and produce from it compounds needed in agriculture in an eco-friendly way.

“The new solution is based on recovering phosphorus from bones and from ash resulting from the incineration of sewage sludge,” says Górecki. “For this purpose we use a bacterium that accompanies the process of tooth decay in small children. This bacterium is used to change the properties of phosphate. As a result, plants can absorb phosphate more efficiently.”

The “Renewable Sources of Phosphorus as a Resource Base for New-Generation Fertilizers” project began last year and will run until the end of October 2016. The consortium partners have at their disposal over zl. 4 million in funding from the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR). The project leader is the Wrocław University of Technology, working with two contractors: the New Chemical Syntheses Institute in Puławy and the Department of Agricultural Systems at the University of Warmia and Mazury.

The Wrocław University of Technology will develop variants of phosphate fertilizers based on various renewable raw materials. The scientists will use ashes from burned, dried sludge from sewage treatment plants and products resulting from the processing of bones.
The New Chemical Syntheses Institute will test the technological concepts drawn up by the Wrocław University of Technology on a pilot-plant scale. The work will be supervised by Andrzej Biskupski, Ph.D.

The team from the University of Warmia and Mazury will evaluate the properties of fertilizers at the university’s experimental fields in Bałcyny near Ostróda. Wheat will be used in the experiments. Magdalena Jastrzębska, Ph.D., and her team will investigate the morphological characteristics of wheat, including stem height, spike length, grain weight, resistance to weeds, and chemical properties. The university’s researchers will also test the soil in which the wheat will be growing.

The project team is aiming to produce a phosphoric fertilizer from sewage sludge that is cheaper than traditional fertilizers, because only then will it be able to generate substantial interest on the market. A priority is to put the new technology into mass production, the scientists say.

Górecki has carried out research work at the Institute of Inorganic Technology and Mineral Fertilizers at the Wrocław University of Technology for 40 years. He has developed and put to use many new technologies and products in the fertilizer sector, inorganic chemistry, the household detergents industry, and agriculture.

The project manager is Agnieszka Saeid, Ph.D., from the Faculty of Chemistry at the Wrocław University of Technology. At the Olsztyn university, working on the project is a team of researchers from the Department of Agricultural Systems led by Jastrzębska.

“We want this project to be put to use on an industrial scale,” says Górecki. “For now, production is only being pursued in laboratory conditions. We are entering a phase of the project in which we will check if our fertilizer works for agriculture. If our concept passes the test, the New Chemical Syntheses Institute will carry out further tests on a larger scale.”

Karolina Olszewska
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