Bio-engineers from the universities of Antwerp and Ghent have developed a new type of fertiliser based on bacteria derived from food industry waste flows.
In the Flemish food production industry quite a lot of fertilisers, like phosphor and nitrogen, are lost. Attempts have already been made to transform this waste into microalgae, which is apparently very useful as an alternative fertiliser. “Although the results were successful, it was 5 to 10 times as expensive as conventional fertiliser. We have now cultivated and mixed three types of safe microbes; primarily aerobic heterotrophic bacteria, purple bacteria and – to a more limited extent – microalgae”, explains researcher Siegfried Vlaeminck.
Professors at the University of Ghent set up a pilot project to test the mixture on several plant varieties, such as ryegrass, petunias, parsley and tomato plants. “We noticed that the microbial fertilisers works just as well as conventional organic fertiliser, and in some cases even better”, says Vlaeminck. “It may be more expensive, but because microalgae also protect crops against disease, we believe that this will be acceptable for the market.”
Now that the researchers have completed the pilot project, they are looking to scale up the experiment. A few hundred thousand tons will be needed to ensure a cost-efficient production and reliable supply, concludes Vlaeminck. Greenyard Foods has already professed an interest in participating in the experiment.
Source: HLN. Photo: Mario Bentvelsen.
Schut Papier, based in Heelsum, the Netherlands, brought a new type of paper made from raw materials such as tomato and sweet pepper plant fibres to the market. The company has long-term plans to use other agricultural by-products in the production of its paper.
With production volumes of only 3,500 metric tons, Schut Papier is one of the Netherlands’ smallest paper factories. ‘This will make us the most flexible factory in the country,’ affirms General Director René Kort. ‘Our flexibility is one of the factors that got us involved in a research project initiated by the Dutch Bio Refinery Cluster. Smurfit Kappa wanted to develop packaging that uses the fibres of tomato plants as a basic raw material. Their own equipment was, however, too big to accommodate the necessary research. Our paper machine was perfect in terms of size; and so we were able to contribute. We spent two years developing the packaging. In the meantime we gained a great deal of knowledge about how fibres derived from agricultural waste flows can be processed for use as a raw material for the production of paper.’
Making use of by-products
Schut Papier subsequently deployed this knowledge to develop its ‘Valorise by Schut Papier’. The paper is made, in part, from the fibres of tomato and sweet pepper plants. Kort: ‘We want to contribute as much as we can to achieving a biobased economy. After all, by-products form one production process can easily become raw materials for another. By treating our raw materials sensibly we will be giving future generations a better world to live in. In concrete terms, it means that we aim to replace as much wood fibre as we can with fibres derived from waste products. After tomatoes are harvested the plants themselves are treated as a waste product. This is ridiculous, of course, because the stems contain interesting substances that can be used to make paint, glue, or crop protection agents, and are additionally chock-full of fibres that can be used to produce paper. This is of benefit to all parties involved. The growers appreciate use being made from their by-products - and this contributes to sustainable working practices at the same time.’
Off to a good start
That Valorise doesn’t reflect only Schut Papier’s corporate philosophy but also appeals to that of its customers is already apparent from the initial sales figures. ‘Valorise has already achieved a production volume of 6 to 7 per cent of all paper produced in part from agricultural by-products. This means we’re off to a good start. I’m also delighted to report that world-renowned companies have been showing interest in Valorise. We were recently selected as a supplier of paper by an advertising agency whose clients include Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy. We aim to achieve a production volume of 15 per cent with paper made in part from agricultural by-products within the next three years. Valorise is helping us to take a giant step in the right direction.’
The cost price of Valorise is a little higher than that of wood-based paper. Kort: ‘The purification and grinding of the fibres is still a comparably expensive process. On the other hand, as Valorise is a decorative type of paper that is used primarily in luxury applications, people are willing to pay a higher price. Fortunately, an increasing number of customers understand that a big step towards increasing sustainability is inevitably linked to a higher cost price. We ultimately aim to arrive at a production process in which the cost price is at the same level as that of conventional paper.’
Schut Papier has long-term plans to use other agricultural by-products in the production of paper. Kort: ‘We have already used by-products from tulip growers, other crops and water plants left from cleaning waterways or lakes.’ The question remains whether it is possible to make a unique line of paper out of every by-product. ‘These could be used for special editions, such as environmental reports or books about circular economics.’
Source: www.agro-chemie.nl. Photo: Mario Bentvelsen.