The European Biogas Association Releases White Paper on Digestate’s Role in Sustainable Agriculture   

On March 27th, the European Biogas Association (EBA), a key partner in the EU project FER-PLAY, unveiled a comprehensive white paper delving into the potential of digestate to foster soil health and promote sustainable agricultural practices in the EU. The white paper contributes to the FER-PLAY project’s endeavours. While the FER-PLAY project focuses on assessing the Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) of seven alternative fertilizers, including digestate, the EBA white paper highlights digestate’s multifaceted benefits and explores avenues for its wider adoption. 

The white paper meticulously examines digestate production processes, agricultural properties, application methods, and its varied uses across the EU. It sheds light on the positive environmental, climatic, and soil health impacts associated with digestate while also addressing regulatory frameworks and market strategies. From a regulatory standpoint, the paper offers insights into EU regulations governing digestate production, application, and marketing. It provides a summary of national regulatory frameworks for digestate across 20 EU countries, identifying key barriers hindering its broader acceptance. 

At the EU level, multiple regulations oversee digestate management, encompassing production standards, quality control, application guidelines, and environmental considerations. Notable among these are the Waste Framework Directive, the Animal By-Products Regulation, the Fertilisers Regulation, and directives for Nitrates and Sewage Sludge. 4In addition, the regulatory landscape at the national level remains complex and lacks harmonization across Member States. This variability necessitates clear legislation to ensure compliance with EU directives and address local agricultural and environmental needs. 

To elucidate specific requirements at the Member State level, the EBA Secretariat conducted interviews with representatives from National Biogas Associations and leading biogas companies. The findings underscored the importance of clear legislation to provide legal certainty and operational guidance, thereby minimizing bureaucratic hurdles and avoiding red tape. Additionally, providing an end-of-waste criteria for digestate at national level will have a positive impact on the public perception of digestate. 

Despite digestate’s potential as an organic fertilizer and soil enhancer, the regulatory barriers that persist hamper its widespread adoption in favor of synthetic fertilisers. For example, under the Nitrates directive, digestate from manure can only be applied under 170 kg of nitrogen per hectare per year, whereas synthetic fertilisers can be used above this limit to reach the nitrogen requirement for each specific crop. Limitations imposed by the Nitrates Directive in this regard restrict the application of digestate and diminish its value compared to synthetic fertilizers. 

The white paper advocates for greater recognition of digestate-derived products as viable substitutes for synthetic fertilizers. However, the affordability of synthetic fertilizers remains a significant deterrent to digestate adoption. Regulatory initiatives are thus deemed crucial in promoting the use of digestate and alternative fertilizers in agriculture. In conclusion, the white paper serves as a clarion call for concerted regulatory efforts to unlock the full potential of digestate in sustainable agriculture. By addressing regulatory barriers and fostering greater awareness, policymakers can pave the way for a more resilient and environmentally conscious agricultural sector and use of digestate in the EU. 

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