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Systemic large scale eco-innovation to advance circular economy and mineral recovery from organic waste in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SYSTEMIC (Systemic large scale eco-innovation to advance circular economy and mineral recovery from organic waste in Europe)

Reporting period: 2018-12-01 to 2020-05-31

In the present economy many natural resources are becoming scarce while on the other hand waste disposal is increasing. Large amounts of valuable nutrients are lost through incineration of waste, accumulation in soils and through harmful nutrient emissions to water and air. Biowastes, like manure, sewage sludge and food, feed and agricultural waste, contain many valuable nutrients that can be recovered and reused to close the nutrient cycle. Recovery of nutrients from biowaste is essential to sustaining our future food production while decreasing environmental impacts. The Horizon 2020 project SYSTEMIC facilitates the transition towards a circular economy by demonstrating new approaches for the recovery of nutrients from biowaste.

Within the SYSTEMIC project five large-scale demonstration plants throughout Europe will demonstrate new approaches for the valorisation of biowaste into green energy, mineral resources, fertilizers and organic soil improvers. Existing biogas plants will be enhanced with novel nutrient recovery technologies. These pioneering plants play an important role in the science-proven evaluation of the performance of new circular solutions. The composition and quality of the products will be tuned to meet the requirements of regional markets. Business cases will be evaluated and life cycle assessments will be made. Such a market-driven strategy and scientific evaluation is needed to develop a viable and sustainable industry.

The wider uptake of our approaches and transition towards a circular economy will be stimulated through: (1) creation of business opportunities for ten outreach locations, (2) dissemination of economic and environmental benefits and (3) policy recommendations. In this way SYSTEMIC will contribute and boost the implementation of circular solutions for biowaste in Europe.
SYSTEMIC’s methodology to ensure dissemination and exploitation of the project results as a true uptake of inventions in the given complex socio-economic and political context consists of three pillars
1. Leading pioneers: Advancing nutrient recovery from biomass at five large scale demonstration plants
2. First Followers: Creating business opportunities at 10 outreach locations
3. Advancing the Circular Economy at the European scale

Step 1. Leading pioneers: Advancing the TRL at 5 Demonstration sites
In the first 18 Months the demonstration plants made significant effort to realise novel proven technologies at their site (TRL7-8 Level) in order to become leading pioneers and showcase nutrient recovery at large scale. Although there are still steps to be taken to become fully operational, an important information was already collected regarding operational system (treatment steps, flow schemes, economic aspects, product quality or expected product quality based on information from the full and/or pilot scale). The information was summarized in fact sheets which are available on the SYSTEMIC website to share important information on nutrient recovery of digested biomass.

Step 2. First Followers: Creating business opportunities at 10 outreach locations
A systemic innovation within a circular economy framework demands that the approaches developed must be applicable to other locations than the Demonstration sites. Therefore, a call was set out to become an outreach location (i.e. a biogas plant interested in in nutrient recovery) and the reactions were overwhelming. Ten outreach locations were selected as first followers and another 18 associated plants were allowed to also join biogas plant meetings (at their own costs). During the meetings information was shared and the interactions and discussions were very good. For all outreach locations factsheets were made, including basic information on their business case and drivers for nutrient recovery, in order to share this information amongst all AD plants involved in SYSTEMIC and beyond. Furthermore, questionnaires were set out to collect also economic and financial aspects of the OL / AP and their market opportunities, which can be used within SYSTEMIC to evaluate business under different conditions and as input for the development of tools. The development of the NRR tool and the business model approach has started and will help in the upcoming years, even after the project, to develop new business opportunities for all plant owners interested in nutrient recovery

Step 3. Advancing the Circular Economy at the European scale
In the first 18 months of the project SYSTEMIC has actively disseminated the project outcomes and has formulated policy recommendations in order to stimulate the implementation of Circular Economy solutions on a European scale. A flyer, a website and a twitter account became available. The consortium members attended 35 conferences at which they had 2 stands, 15 speakers and 4 posters. In addition, SYSTEMIC was a formal supporter regarding the organisation of the MANURESOURCE conference held (November 2017). The consortium was also very active in attending relevant workshops. Over the 18 month period, SYSTEMIC members communicated about the project, or disseminated early results at 70 workshops where they had 37 speakers, 2 stands and 3 posters. An important list of key messages and recommendations were given to DG ENVI regarding legislative barriers of the Nitrate Directive on application limits of biobased nitrogen rich fertilisers and specific factsheets of biobased N rich fertilisers were written (Policy-Science workshop Nitrate Directive; May 2018). Furthermore, there was a strong interactions with many EU working groups, platforms and other consultation workshops (ESPP, IWA Resource recovery cluster, International Fertiliser Society, WssTP, Biorefine cluster) and bilateral meetings with representatives from EU institutions (EC DG Environment, EC DG SANTE, EC DG GROWTH, EC DG RTD – The Nitrates Expert Group (EU), The European Network for Rural Development), which will continue in the upcoming years.
- The ongoing date collection of the performance of large scale nutrient recovery at biogas plants (mass flows, product quality, cost-benefits, environmental impact assessment, and LCA) and application of the products in pot and field trials will contribute to the dissemination of evidence based knowledge which will be crucial for plant owners dealing with biowaste processing and also for policy makers to determine framework conditions to facilitate and stimulate circular economy implementation in practice (such as the regulatory or policy framework).
- Currently 28 other anaerobic digestion plants joined the project. Experiences on nutrient recovery and business and market opportunities were exchanged and discussed. Both aspects will contribute to the exploitation of EU innovative solutions to valorise biomass waste streams at wider scale.
- Ongoing dissemination activities (videos of the demo’s, open days, newsletters, website), the strong interactions with many EU working groups, platforms and other consultation workshops (ESPP, IWA Resource recovery cluster, International Fertiliser Society, WssTP, Biorefine cluster) and bilateral meetings with representatives from EU institutions (e.g. EC DGs, Nitrate Expert Group, The European Network for Rural Development) will provide a solid base for upscaling the targeted dissemination work focusing the direct results towards the relevant stakeholder groups in a strategic manner.