EU turns to tech­nol­ogy to re­verse farm pol­lu­tion

Irish Examiner - Farming - - TECHNOLOGY FOCUS - Stephen Cado­gan

Agri­cul­tural pol­lu­tion is a worse prob­lem in other EU coun­tries than in Ire­land, to the point where EU fund­ing is go­ing into find­ing new ways to ex­tract phos­pho­rous and ni­trates from the wa­ter. Phos­pho­rous is widely used in agri­cul­tural fer­tilis­ers, but also in de­ter­gents, house­hold clean­ing prod­ucts, and in­dus­trial pro­cesses. As a re­sult, more phos­pho­rus has been mea­sured in lakes and rivers in re­cent years.

An EU project in Spain is test­ing new, nat­u­ral-based co­ag­u­lants in ter­tiary wastew­a­ter treat­ment pro­cesses, to re­place po­ten­tially toxic syn­thetic co­ag­u­lants, and im­prove the ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness phos­pho­rous re­moval.

Sludge from the treat­ment process will be used to pro­duce bio­gas. Ground­wa­ter pol­lu­tion can be a prob­lem in in­ten­sively farmed ar­eas, such as the prov­ince of Granada in south­ern Spain. Ni­trates, phos­phates, and agro­chem­i­cals in soil per­co­late into aquifers, af­fect­ing wa­ter qual­ity. To ad­dress this prob­lem, another EU-funded project will develop and demon­strate a new bi­o­log­i­cal treat­ment method to re­move or­ganic and in­or­ganic nu­tri­ents such as pes­ti­cides and ni­trates from wa­ter. It is ex­pected to re­move 90% of those nu­tri­ents and make sig­nif­i­cant en­ergy and cost sav­ings in com­par­i­son with con­ven­tional treat­ment. Another EU-funded project aims to re­duce the am­mo­nia emis­sions as­so­ci­ated with ma­nure spread­ing on farms, by us­ing the di­luted liq­uid frac­tion of slurry and di­ges­tates in pre­ci­sion fer­ti­ga­tion (fer­tilis­ers plus ir­ri­ga­tion) tech­niques.

This project is also in Spain, one of six EU states that, in 2014, ex­ceeded Emis­sion Ceil­ings Di­rec­tive am­mo­nia lim­its. In large-scale field tri­als, the project will show if it’s pos­si­ble to re­place syn­thetic fer­tilis­ers and re­duce the risks of eu­troph­i­ca­tion and ni­trate leach­ing in agri­cul­tural soils.

Across the EU, an es­ti­mated 87% of ground­wa­ter is pol­luted by ex­cess ni­trates (in con­trast, 2012 fig­ures showed 85.6% of Ir­ish ground­wa­ter aquifers had “good” sta­tus), and in in­ten­sive EU farm­ing and cat­tle ar­eas, the con­cen­tra­tion in ground­wa­ter can reach one to seven times the le­gal level.

In Spain, an EU-funded project will build a pro­to­type plant for clean­ing wa­ter with a high ni­trate con­tent. The plant will fea­ture an ad­sorp­tion bed made of active sil­ica, ob­tained through a sec­ond pro­to­type for treat­ing waste ashes from the con­trolled in­cin­er­a­tion of rice straw. The project also plans to raise aware­ness amongst farm­ers of re­duc­ing ni­trates at source by cut­ting their use of ni­tro­gen fer­tilis­ers.

The projects are part of an EU in­vest­ment pack­age of €222 mil­lion to sup­port tran­si­tion to a more sus­tain­able and low-car­bon fu­ture.

The fund­ing will mo­bilise ad­di­tional in­vest­ments, lead­ing to a to­tal of €377m go­ing to­wards 139 new projects in 20 EU states.

Re­mov­ing ni­trate and phos­pho­rous pol­lu­tion of wa­ter from agri­cul­ture is an EU-funded re­search ob­jec­tive.

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