New science turns water waste-product into valuable fertiliser

British water companies could soon benefit from a new circular economy innovation which will enable them to recover humic acid - a valuable fertiliser.

One Dutch water company dealing with 25 million cubic metres of water a year, produces enough humic acid to serve all of Dutch agriculture and more

One Dutch water company dealing with 25 million cubic metres of water a year, produces enough humic acid to serve all of Dutch agriculture and more

Humic acid is currently discharged as a waste product during the drinking-water blanching process, but Dutch water firm Vitens has developed a way to recover it in its pure fertilising form, and wants to bring the circular process to the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia.

Ms Lieve Declercq, chair of the Vitens executive board said: "Thanks to the sustainable usage of humic acid, we are able to reduce the use of artificial fertiliser and phosphates in agriculture and horticulture.

"This will improve the ground water used to produce drinking water, and the growth of crops, as well as being better for the environment. In short: a win-win situation for farmers and water supply companies."

Farmers will also benefit by having easy access to a natural fertiliser. European farmers currently use humic acid extracted from lignite imported from the US and Australia, a costly and pollutive process.

Big splash

The sheer amount of bottled water processed in Europe potentially equates to a lot of fertiliser. One Dutch water company, dealing with 25 million cubic metres of water per year, currently produces enough humic acid to serve all of Dutch agriculture and more.

Humic acid can also be used as to improve animal farming as well as agriculture. Studies have demonstrated that piglets will remain healthier and their growth improved when humic acid is added to their fodder.

Turning waste products into fertiliser is a growing practice in the UK, with the anaerobic digestion industry generating more than one million tonnes of digestate fertiliser last year.

Brad Allen


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Water | Waste & resource management | Energy efficiency & low-carbon
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