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Joining forces to recover minerals

21 September 2012
BioNPK (only in Dutch) is a project set up by the Dutch Biorefinery Cluster (only in Dutch) to develop technological concepts to recover minerals from residual flows from the agrofood industry. It is concentrating on the recovery of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P) and potassium (K). BioNPK's project leader is Dirk Vermeulen, a programme manager at Cosun Food Technology Centre. He is working for Suiker Unie on the recovery of minerals from sugar beet. 'Our biomass digesters convert residual flows from the sugar factories into biogas and digestate. We can separate the latter into a dry and a wet fraction. The minerals N, K and P can best be isolated in the wet fraction. They can then be used as agricultural fertilisers. It would be fantastic if we could return to the fields everything we take from them.' The question is how these minerals can be recovered in a technically and financially optimal way. BioNPK is carrying out tests to find out. Several businesses are taking part in the tests, including Avebe (potato starch), Bioclear (biological solutions) and Bumaga (only in Dutch) (the expertise centre for paper and board).
 
Dirk Vermeulen is looking forward to the first results. But the cooperation with the arable sector is already adding a new dimension to his work: 'Process technologists like me usually think in terms of technology but now I'm being forced to think about how the technology is used, the product applications and marketing, how we can sell the new fertilisers to farmers.'