Several innovative alternative fertilisers value chains appeared in recent years as promising replacements for conventional fertilisers. Due to the variety and quantity of information available, the FER-PLAY project conducted a multi-assessment analysis of 48 different alternative fertilisers value chains to map and characterise these fertilisers.
In a first step, partners narrowed down the selection to 30 value chains through a go/no-go approach. It attended to the data availability, their nutrient content and soil improvement capacity, their toxicity, their technical viability (focusing only on those with a Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5), their versatility to comply with legislation in different EU countries and their potential for replication at industrial scale.
Following the initial selection process, the value chains were then subjected to a new analysis and scoring process. It included ten new parameters such as the marketability, their used around the European Union (EU), the type and ease of transport and storage, or their application or not in organic agriculture. FER-PLAY concluded that the most promising value chains were: Struvite coming from urban wastewater (UWW), struvite from industrial wastewater (IWW), stabilised sludge from sewage sludge (SS), composted bio-waste (food waste and green compost) from biowaste (BW), feather meal from biological by-products (BBP), solid fraction of digestate (DIG) and spent mushroom substrate from treated manure (TM).
Taking struvite from urban wastewater as an example, this is the raw material with the highest amount of annual production in Europe. In the case of the use of both feather meal from biological by-products and the solid fraction of digestate, both can be used in organic farming, improving the potential for their usage. Finally, the forecasted volume of annual production of spent mushroom substrate from treated manure EU-wide is the highest among the analysed fertilisers.
The reasons that encouraged FER-PLAY to focus on this selection are very varied and speak to the numerous and diverse properties of these fertilisers and the potential of their value chains. The selection will allow the project to assess more traditional fertilisers (e.g., sludge, compost or digestate), as well as new but consolidated fertilisers (e.g., struvite), and more innovative alternatives (e.g., spent mushroom substrate or feathers).
It is crucial for the project to assess only those value chains that are well-characterised and that represent the variability of agricultural applications and practices across Europe. The selected value chains will now undergo a multi-assessment analysis regarding their environmental, social, economic impacts and trade-offs as well as their technical and regulatory aspects.