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Sustainable use of natural resources

Subject: closing carbon and nutrient cycles, energy and resource efficiency, resource intensity, resource fingerprinting, carbon storage/sequestration, the reduce-reuse-recycle principle.

Agriculture uses natural resources such as soil, water, minerals and genetic diversity. In addition, agriculture interacts with the natural environment, which it potentially impacts in both a positive and negative way. It is crucial to quantify and balance the use of raw materials, emissions and environmental impact in order to make the transition to a sustainable bioeconomy. Raw material efficiency must be optimised and the transition to the bioeconomy is an opportunity to redirect our economy towards closing carbon and nutrient cycles.

Current ILVO focus

  • System-oriented: life cycle analysis (LCA) of processes from a raw material perspective, resource fingerprinting, total raw material consumption, economic-ecological trade-offs, optimal allocation of resources and raw materials.
  • Process oriented: raw material efficient production, optimal use of by-products to close nutrient cycles, optimal application of secondary products from the bioeconomy such as chitin, compost, biochar, and digestate from anaerobic digestion to maintain or improve the soil quality.

Direction of future research

  • System-oriented: co-evolution of raw materials and emissions, evaluation of different agro-systems at system level, design and evaluation of multiple valorisation of crops, evaluation and management of interactions between primary production and processing, optimization of sufficient production (efficiency paradigm), linking raw materials allocation with system resilience.
  • Process oriented: LCA from the point of view of integral raw materials and emissions. Two areas that are often not well developed in ecological life cycle studies will be taken into account: (a) long-term impact on soil fertility and (b) emissions from agriculture.
  • Process oriented: Balancing the carbon content of the soil against the risk of nutrient losses by creating Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).

Projects

  1. Digestate as a starting product for soil improvers and organic fertilizers
  2. Characterisation of soil improvers, new organic fertilisers and treated manure
  3. Composting and silage of residual flows
  4. Making growing substrates more sustainable
  5. Which factors are decisive for sustainable grain maize production?
  6. LCA and a Soil Quality Indicator for the Flemish agricultural sector
  7. From crop residues to biogas
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