April 26, 2007 | General

Editorial: Balancing The Need For Nutrients And Power

BioCycle April 2007, Vol. 48, No. 4, p. 4
Jerome Goldstein

As we reported in last month’s BioCycle in an article that covered cocomposting solids, approximately 480,000 tons of waste per year are generated in Austria and collected using a biowaste bin system. Composting is the commonly used method in processing biogenic residuals. Another approach is anaerobic digestion with biogas production. Researchers are concentrating on advanced aerobic treatment of residues from anaerobic systems by cocomposting. The challenge is to “crack” anaerobically stabilized and resistant organic matter under aerobic conditions.
This research reflects an ongoing concern now on how to balance the essential need to return nutrients to crops and soil while making available for renewable energy the supply of feedstock to turn into sustainable power. This is no small achievement in a world that needs to cut back on imported petroleum use while not diminishing the release of nitrogen and nutrients, with their positive impacts on moisture, temperature and soil structure.
No one knows this balancing act better than old-time composters.
The Austrian researchers – Katharina Meissl and Ena Smidt – are with the Institute of Waste Management, BOKU – University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna. It is well known, they write, that high quality composts can increase and enrich the terrestrial carbon pool. “The decrease of organic matter in soils causes momentous problems in some European areas and worldwide. Therefore, it is aimed to produce high quality composts rich in stable organic matter to remediate agricultural soils and to prevent soil organic matter depletion.”
They conclude that cocomposting of residues from anaerobic digestion leads to high quality composts. Further investigations will be performed using various residues such as sewage sludge and different biogenic input materials. “Cocomposting of residues from anaerobic digestion is an appropriate alternative of closed loop management,” they point out.
The BioCycle 23rd Annual West Coast Conference coming up San Diego will evaluate the balanced need for nutrients and power — in such areas as how farmlands in southern California play a major role in organic resource processing. The agenda includes how San Diego County — the 12th largest agricultural economy in the U.S. — needs on-farm composting projects to overcome the challenges brought on by water pollution, overdevelopment, air quality, etc. It also makes clear why California transportation agencies have increased purchase of compost and mulch products fivefold last year as they develop new sets of specifications and create a compost use manual.
Partnerships are happening here and now, and the total effect is to firm up the proper balance for organics recycling.

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