GRDC wastes no time in researching new fertiliser options

Author: Will Martel | Date: 05 Dec 2014

Image of Will Martel, GRDC Northern Panellist

The processing of industrial waste into fertiliser is a concept that has attracted many a keen discussion over the kitchen tables of farming families.

There are compelling reasons for progressing research and development within this area – Australia’s agriculture and livestock industries source 50% of their fertiliser phosphates and 100% of potassium from overseas leaving the market extremely vulnerable to price fluctuation and resource availability.

A viable home-grown and renewable alternative could help lower the cost of fertiliser supplies and improve the availability of resources within Australia.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) is a keen supporter of research that helps bring down the cost of grain production and improves the profitability of farmers.

The GRDC is helping researchers find alternative, renewable nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) mineral fertilisers to promote the long term sustainability of the Australian grains industry through its investment in the Fertiliser From Wastes project.

The research is being carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Queensland (UQ) Advanced Water Management Centre led by Dr Damien Batstone with the assistance of GRDC research fellow Dr Chirag Mehta.

A key part of the research is developing a process to extract nutrients from effluent waste to make a nutrient rich and low bulk fertiliser product that will compare to current synthetic products.

With much of the effluent waste being produced in cities, there is significant opportunity to capitalise on the recovery and use of nutrients. But while farmers well recognise the value of waste products, the cost to freight these products to the paddock has been generally prohibitive.

Two major fertiliser recovery processes have been piloted, involving a sewage treatment plant and a meat processing plant.

The nutrient recovery system has proved highly cost-effective for phosphorus and is now being developed for nitrogen and potassium.

A multi-staged nitrogen and potassium recovery process is being developed at UQ with the aim of producing concentrated liquid fertiliser from diluted wastewater.

The current research builds on previous work in identifying the opportunities and feasibility of nutrient recovery and will help generate a buffer against external phosphorus price movements.

Previous work focussed strongly on phosphorus recovery as the most price-sensitive nutrient and the one most technically feasible to recovery. With potentially up to 25% of the domestic phosphorous market able to be recovered from waste streams and the potassium market able to be completely supplied, the project has important agricultural and environmental implications.

The next phase of the project will involve up-scaling the pilot plants to commercial-scale operations and agronomic trials to test the efficacy of the new fertiliser products against traditional sources.

The grains industry stands to benefit significantly from a more competitive and sustainable intensive agro-industrial sector, through improved waste management technologies and a new revenue stream related to renewable energy and fertiliser.

For more information on the Fertiliser From Wastes Phase 2 project contact Dr Damien Batstone 0434 841 150 or


Caption: Will Martel, GRDC Northern Panellist, Wellington NSW.

Contact Details

Sarah Jeffrey, Senior Consultant Cox Inall Communications
0418 152859

GRDC Project Code UQ00061

Region North