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Determining the agronomic and environmental impacts of organic products from agricultural and urban waste streams

Funding: European Training Network (ETN) funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions

Funding status: Fully funded PhD studentship

Supervisors: Prof David Chadwick & Prof Davey Jones

Location: School of Natural Sciences, Bangor University

Project Description

Whilst many EU countries, e.g. the UK, DK and NL, have developed sophisticated manure nutrient recommendation systems, there is insufficient evidence about the agronomic and environmental effects of new bio-based products, including modified products to reduce environmental losses, for their inclusion in such decision support systems. There is a growing need to assess the wider implications of using new and existing bio-based products, and develop technologies that enhance their nutrient use efficiencies but reduce their environmental impact.

The chosen candidate will explore the nutrient use efficiencies of acidified and non-acidified fractions of digestates from a range of sources, including crop-based, manure-based and food-waste-based digestates. This will require experimentation at a range of scales (plot and pot experiments, as well as lab-scale assays), to generate data to improve our understanding of soil, environmental and management factors that control nutrient supply (N, P and S) to crops, e.g. via mineralisation from organic forms, and losses of nutrients (especially N) to the environment. There will also be opportunity to explore the impact of processed digestate fractions on soil quality, as it is important to assess if measures to reduce environmental losses, e.g. acidification of digestate to reduce ammonia volatilisation, impact on microbial nutrient cycling and potential carbon sequestration.

Importantly, the candidate will benchmark nutrient supply and environmental losses from modified digestate fractions alongside the use of more conventional organic resources, such as solid manures and slurries. This is important in terms of farmer/grower acceptability and potential adoption. Moreover, this new understanding needs to be applicable to a range of typical soil, crop and climatic conditions. Ultimately, the objective will be to integrate this new knowledge of the agronomic and environmental performance of processed fractions of digestates from different sources into existing decision support tools, such as the UK’s MANNER-NPK, to realize the potential of their use in a range of different agricultural systems and geo-climates across Europe.

The candidate will also be asked to do secondment (internship as visiting researcher) at one of the other FertiCycle partners for a shorter period of time (1-3 months).
Requirements specific to this project include:

  • One of the key criteria for this PhD studentship is academic excellence. The candidate will need to have completed a Masters-level degree at time of admission. Preferably this should be in Biology, Environmental Science, Soil Science, Plant Biology, Agriculture, Ecology or a related subject.
  • Experience in undertaking and writing up experiments.
  • Fieldwork experience is desirable.
  • Leadership skills and the ability to work in a team is a requirement.
  • Good understanding of statistics and statistical models is preferable.
  • Applicants having already published in a scientific journal will be highly considered, however, this is not a pre-requisite.
  • The studentship is based at Bangor University but the student should be comfortable with long-distance travel (to other parts of Europe) to undertake collaborative work and also national travel to attend conferences etc.

Funding Notes

This PhD is one of 15 PhD student positions (ESR) on ‘New bio-based fertilisers from organic waste upcycling’ being supported under the FertiCycle European Training Network. The FertiCycle Network is a multidisciplinary European Training Network (ETN) funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions. The consortium is comprised of 9 world leading universities and 7 research institutions in 8 European countries.

The background for the FertiCycle network is that currently, the EU is heavily import dependent for more than 90% of the nonrenewable phosphorus and synthetic nitrogen fertilisers consumed. This has large economic cost (more than €15 billion/y) and negative environmental impacts from fertiliser production and use. European farmers and fertiliser industry therefore urgently need techniques for increasing substitution of synthetic with waste-derived nutrients formulated into high-quality, bio-based fertilisers to fulfill the EU action plan on circular economy. However, this requires research into new processing, application and assessment and more innovative and entrepreneurial scientists capable of meeting these future needs – FertiCycle aims to to fill this gap.

The overall research objective of FertiCycle is therefore to develop new processes for production of bio-based fertilisers, recycling wasted resources and to estimate the market potential and sustainability challenges of their production and use.

FertiCycle will train 15 early stage researchers (ESR) to fulfill this objective. Our comprehensive training program and their individual research projects will enable the individual ESR to generate, integrate and apply inter-disciplinary knowledge for developing new technical solutions for bio-based fertiliser production, management and marketing. The training, secondments and internships will also give them competences for inter-sectoral work and international collaboration in industry and academia.

FertiCycle outcomes will be 15 highly qualified young scientists; required technologies, knowhow and market concepts from which innovative bio-based fertiliser products can develop to proof-of-concept level with industry.

Tasks, responsibilities and opportunities of the ESR:

  • You perform independent scientific research within a collaborative international research consortium (the FertiCycle network).
  • You get in contact and collaborate with the other members of this international consortium and will benefit from the tailored training programme.
  • You participate in international secondments (internship as visiting researcher) to other organisations in the FertiCycle network.
  • You deliver written reports of your research on a regular basis.
  • You write and publish scientific articles related to the research project of the assignment.
  • You support the valorization of research results into tangible deliverables
  • You participate to scientific meetings and conferences to present your research to the scientific community.
  • You actively participate in outreach activities aimed to promote your own scientific research as well as the FertiCycle network activities to a wider audience.
  • You (may) contribute (limited) to teaching activities.

How to apply

This is a fully funded project, to submit an application please go to: https://apps.bangor.ac.uk/applicant . Further details of the research group can be found here.