The ChallengeThe cost of mineral nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen is rising, as a result of the finite supply of easily accessible phosphorous, higher energy costs, and a growing world population. This is resulting in a bigger demand for the recovery of these nutrients. Huge quantities of these nutrients are commonly found in wastewater treatment sludge, digestate, manure, and similar products. Recovering nutrients from these sources is an efficient way of closing the material cycle, and could potentially allow for these substances to be used indefinitely, at the same time as producing less waste. However, this process is subject to technical, organisational and legal uncertainties.
The SolutionRoyal HaskoningDHV led a consortium of key industry players to form a new consortium called the ‘Nutrient Clearing House’. The consortium will work together to recover nutrients from sludge, manure, digestate and the like in Flanders and has a market-driven focus in doing so.
The Nutrient Clearing House uses large-scale hub-based infrastructure, and has a central plant for the production these nutrients, which are environmentally positive and are stripped of any connotation with the products that they were sourced from.
As part of the consortium, we’ve implemented innovative approaches throughout this project, including:
- Taking a demand-led perspective on the market. Starting from the current market and emphasizing its questions and demands, we have focused on a limited number of end products with a guaranteed demand on the market. This has demonstrated the economic incentive of the project, as we have been able to demonstrate demand against the finite resources available.
- Focusing on the end-user, and adapting our approach to achieve what they need, in terms of logistics and specification. We’ve done this by combining technologies and stakeholders – working together to achieve an efficient result.
- Scaling up the technologies in order to meet demand, produce the nutrients in greater volumes, and increase profit margins. Currently, the industry is only operating on a small-scale basis, which is costly and inefficient.
The OutcomeWe have produced a viable business plan, which will allow the consortium to take the next steps towards the implementation of a Nutrient Clearing House in Flanders. Royal HaskoningDHV is responsible for facilitating and moderating the consortium in the next implementation phases.
The first phase will be the development and implementation of a pilot plant, and the final step will be the construction and operation of a large full-scale Nutrient Clearing House, which will produce environmentally-positive products with strong market value.
The economic and social benefits of this new approach include reduced costs for the suppliers of the waste streams (e.g. farmers), leading onto economic benefits for the involved nutrient processing partners, as well as providing overall environmental benefits.