Bioenergy cropsoffer a new market for farmers.
The cultivation of fast-growing tree species(SRPs) that can be used for bioenergy production is apromising alternative source of income for European farmers. TheBiopros project will investigate the concept of irrigating and fertilisingsuch SRPs using waste water and sewage sludge. It will develop decision-support tools that will allow farmers to pick the right plant species and the best management practice, depending on their local conditions, to enter this market. Biopros will support sustainabledevelopment in rural communities, reduce natural water and chemical fertiliser use, and help diversifyand secure European energy supplies.
The economic situation for European farmers has been deterioratingover recent years due to increasing cost pressures on agriculturalproducts. Changing priorities in the EU’s common agriculturalpolicy (CAP) foresee a stronger role for farmers in rural developmentand fulfilling agreed standards for environmental protection, animalwelfare and food security. To be globally competitive, farmers arebeing obliged to seek alternative products and embrace newquality regimes.Short-Rotation-Plantations (SRPs) are one of the most promisingalternative sources of income for farmers. This method involvescultivating fast-growing tree species, such as willow or polar, thatcan be used as a fuel source for bioenergy and other applications.To further boost the sustainability of this concept, SRPs can beirrigated and fertilised using waste water and sewage sludgeresulting in a process that gives highly efficient biomass productiontogether with a low-cost and environmentally safe biological wastewater and sludge treatment. The potential for SRPs could be a perfectmatch to future market and environmental requirements for farmersthroughout the enlarged European Union.
However, there is a wide variation in local climatic conditions,economics and logistical expertise in energy biomass productionacross Europe. The aim of the Biopros project is to demonstrate theeconomic, ecological and technical feasibility of the safe applicationof the technology for high-efficiency biomass production and totransfer the knowledge generated to appropriate SME (small andmedium-sized enterprises) partners – in particular, the farmingcommunity and agricultural engineers.The Collective Research project’s main focus is to achieve highbiomass yields without any negative environmental or hygieneimpacts. Biopros will work to promote knowledge about the potentialfor SRP as a main crop for farmers, and to address any prejudicesin the wider community against the application of human waste tocrops. The project will also look at barriers that could limit theapplication of SRP-produced biomass, and its research will covera wide range of aspects including SRP best practice, its coststructure and related legislation and standards.
Sustaining energy and enterprisein rural areas
“The project can sustain rural economies,reduce waste and diversify Europe’senergy supplies.”
The use of sewage sludge and waste water could enable a three-foldincrease in the efficiency of SRP biomass production and use of wasteto create real value. The project has a number of environmentallysustainable aspects. The crop itself is a CO
-neutral energy sourceand the use of waste water will reduce the need for natural water by30%, whilst sewage sludge should eliminate the use of chemicalfertilisers and contribute to soil improvement. The project will developstandards for the safe and efficient operation of SRP that willcompletely prevent the pollution of aquifers and surface water whichmight arise from the uncontrolled reuse of sludge and waste water.
From a social point of view, the project aims to increase farmers’income by 10% and help to reduce dependency on CAP subsidies.It will also protect and create employment in rural areas and in thewider biomass sector.The European Biomass Industry Association, based in Brussels, isthe main project coordinator for Biopros, with the scientific andtechnical aspects being managed by the Technologies TransferCentrum Bremerhaven (TTZ). The consortium brings together farmers’associations from Spain, Bulgaria, Northern Ireland, Poland,Estonia, Silesia and Italy as well as individual farming SMEs fromSpain, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Bulgaria, bringing a widerange of hands-on agricultural experienceto the project. A furtherindustrial association isthe International Eco-logical Engin-eering Societybased in Switz-erland. Thebiomassindustry isrepresented
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