Public policies in China and in several EU Member States have promoted the use of anaerobic digestion to treat organic wastes and to generate renewable energy. This has resulted in the production of considerable volumes of digestate as by-product, which could raise an environmental concern, prove costly and represent an inefficient use of biomass. The most straight-forward option for placing a value on digestate is to use it as an organic fertiliser and soil amender. However digestate is not highly appreciated by farmers as a soil treatment due to its significant shortcomings. These may include, amongst other things and depending on the feedstock source, potential risks of water pollution through leaching, soil contamination, or a threat to human health by food contamination. Furthermore, digestate is difficult to manage due to its fertilising properties, format and high water content.
Projects shall develop treatment technologies to convert digestate into a suitable fertiliser or soil amender. They could focus on a specific digestate type or develop a flexible process covering a variety of digestates.
These treatments shall
(i) reduce risks linked to biological and chemical hazards (including AMR) to acceptable levels,
(ii) improve fertilising properties and
(iii) address issues related to format, formulation and handling. Proper solutions must be sought for the liquid phase to avoid pollution.
The fertiliser developed must be suitable for direct use, or for mixed formulation with other fertilisers. Field tests must be implemented over an appropriate period of time to assess its agronomic properties, as well as its effect on the environment (including greenhouse gas emissions), and on food safety. Projects shall focus on technologies that could be deployed in a decentralised manner, at a relatively small scale. Such technologies shall achieve a technology readiness level (TRL) 6-7 by the end of your project. A comprehensive impact assessment (economic, environmental and social) of the business model shall be carried out, and policy recommendations shall be provided to boost its deployment.
Proposals shall ensure solid collaboration between agro-food actors, technology providers, research centres, end-users (farmers and farmers associations), and public administration. Projects shall perform a thorough analysis of the state of the art, and demonstrate that your proposed activities go beyond this state and do not overlap with past or ongoing research.
Proposals shall include a task to cluster with other projects financed under topic RUR CE-08-2018/2019/2020 and, if possible, with other relevant projects in the field funded by Horizon 2020, including under the Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU). Proposals shall promote balanced research and innovation cooperation between the EU and China. China-based entities that will participate in joint projects with European partners under Horizon 2020 have also the possibility to apply for funding under the Chinese co-funding mechanism.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of up to EUR 5 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude the submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts. Contributions for Chinese participants will come in addition and will be made available by China.
Projects are expected to provide the technologies needed to develop commercial fertilisers based on biogas digestate. This will help to:
- replace conventional, non-renewable mineral fertilisers, hence reducing external dependence and risks related to depletion;
- reduce the environmental impacts linked to the inadequate management of biogas digestate, and to the production of fossil-based fertilisers;
- develop new business models in rural areas, that are synergised with existing ones, creating value from digestate.
In the long term, this shall contribute to a more circular, resource-efficient and sustainable agro-food sector, and create wealth and quality jobs in rural areas.
Projects shall also contribute to increasing the innovation capacities of participating organisations, and to strengthening scientific and industrial collaboration between the EU and China.
Illustration Photo: Lethbridge Biogas Facility, the largest anaerobic digester power generation facility in Canada. (credits: Tonyglen14 / Flickr Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))