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Integrated solution for innovative biodegradation control of agricultural plastic mulches.

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - BIOMULCH (Integrated solution for innovative biodegradation control of agricultural plastic mulches.)

Reporting period: 2017-12-01 to 2019-05-31

Currently, a growing worldwide demand for agricultural products exists due to the rapid world population increase, which it is expected to reach 9 mil millions by 2050 (United Nations estimations ). The amount of arable land needed to feed them, however, will not expand at the same rate, indeed and it could even decrease.
Producing more food on less land, using less water, energy, chemicals while adapting to climatic changes is an important need.
Therefore, it is necessary to increase crop yields while ensuring soil protection and to increase food production. Mulching is one way of alleviating this situation.
This is an essential technique to satisfy the population demand, in constant growth. It consists of covering the soil surface in order to modify climate conditions and protecting and favouring the crops. It allows to increase the production in terms of quantity and quality while reducing the need for water, pesticides, fertilisers and energy.
Currently, mulching is the most extended technique in plasticulture regarding covered agronomic surface.Conventional mulch is made of polyethylene plastic. Mulch films are laid on an enormous area of land worldwide, about 4million hectares. Without these plastics in agriculture, 60% of the fruit, vegetables and the dairy production would beendangered.
The main limitation in the use of plastic materials for mulching is that plastic has to be removed after theharvest; it is messy, time-consuming and expensive, €1,400/ha; in addition, mechanical removal only allowscollecting 75-85% of plastic, the rest remains at soil. Almost all of this plastic waste persists in the environment for verylong periods of time usually at least one hundred years; they contaminate the soils and pollute the food chain. Another important problem is its difficulty to be recycled in a proper manner, inaccordance with the environment requirements (Directive 2008/98/EC) due to its high contamination by ground, stones, organic waste and pesticides(contaminants can be up to 50% by weight).
This fact results in a big increase of the costs related to the use of this technique in addition to thegeneration of the waste that is hard to be recycled. EU-28 generates 1.3millions of tons of the agricultural plastics waste. Landfilling is the first treatment option in many EU countries. It has been proved that harmful compounds are released from landfilling as well as uncontrolled burning plastics by growers (because of the high transportation costand landfill tipping fees, farmers often consider on-site burning to be economically more favorable although it is a forbidden practice). These substances are accumulated in soil as they move to the food chain and are air pollutants (it isestimated that 12% of total annual dioxin/furan emissions in the EU are produced by agricultural plasticincineration). €38billion is spent in Europe for the degradation of soil, from which 35% is coming from uncontrolled burns and landfill of agricultural waste.
CETEC have been working with the base materials for mulching and the first candidate formulations with microorganisms-linkers have been achieved. These formulations are completely biobase and they have been scaled up by FKUR. At the same time enzymes have been encapsulated and they have been used by both mulching film applications and microorganisms that help biodegradation.
Specific microorganism, that biodegrade the designed mulching film, have been selected and classified by Thatchtec.
Morera &Vallejo has extruded the scaled formulations to obtein the first mulching film prototipes and ADESVA have set the first mulching film prototipes in real conditions on a greenhouse in Huelva (Spain).
From the feedback of these first prototipes, new formulations will be developed until achieve the final formulation suitable to commercialize.
At the moment, the project has a very close final mulching film development and a very close final microorganisms kit to ensure the film biodegradation in less than 2 months.
Beyond of polyethylene mulching films, currently, there are commercial biodegradable mulching films that have a good behaviour in composting conditions but fail in real soil conditions because the soil is not capable to biodegrade the plastic before the begining of the following crop season. Biomulch is ready to achive mulch film biodegradation in less than two months after the crop is finished. There is no mulch in the market which solves the plastics waste problem. There is a market demand to find alternatives. The development of bio-based mulch with controlled biodegradation and being cost competitive respect to polyethylene mulch (€1,100/ha of BIOMULCH respect to €3,000/ha of PE) is a need highly demanded by the current agriculture market. Therefore, an important potential market exists for BIOMULCH.
Expected results:
- To develop a compound for film extrusion with controlable biodegradation through the incorporation of enzymes& microorganisms-linkers to a PLA blend.
- To develop a microorganisms solution to biodegrade the PLA film.
- To develop and validate a mulch film with controlable biodegradation based on the developed compound.
- To scale-up and integrate the product (film and microorganisms) as a commercial kit.
- To establish a solid supply chain involving the main suppliers of the raw materials at industrial scale and suppling it to FKUR, MORERA, and THATCHTEC.
- To launch into the market BIOMULCH with high difusion.
- To reach the European and South American mulch market.
- To ensure a strategic protection of the results.
Biomulch development will contribute to the needs of European and global markets and have environmentally and socially important impacts:
-Environmental impact: BIOMULCH will contribute to the diminishing of plastic waste with a potential 13,860 tonne/year decrease, which in economic terms accounts to savings of over €285 million by 2022.
- Agricultural Soil Impact. BIOMULCH will have an important advantage, the soils will be always adequate for farming practices versus polyethylene mulches and oxodegradable mulches due the high potential accumulation of harmful substances in food chain.
- Recycling plants impact. BIOMULCH will contribute to solve the current problem of the treatment of agriculture plastics for recycling plants, which include oxodegradable and biodegradable plastics mixed with the polyethylene plastics, potentially decreasing them a 0.15%.
Biomulch on real field.