Research team

Expertise

New technologies cannot function in isolation. Any innovation must be viewed in its context, that is in the system in which it eventually will have to function. It is only when technologies are evaluated in their context that one can understand externalities and unexpected consequences they may cause. These items may include, but are not limited to: pollution swapping (reducing one type of pollution while increasing another), changes over time as the context changes, opportunity costs (e.g. monetary as well as environmentally or technologically) and feasibility in practice. With the above systems perspective I investigate socio-technical system focused on water and nutrient recovery from liquid streams (e.g. municipal wastewater, food and beverage wastewater, rainwater and drinking water). Products that are investigated include are organic and inorganic fertilisers, microbial biomass as an alternative protein source or other biobased materials relevant for the agri-food value chain. The methodologies I am using seek to provide evidence for environmental, economic and legal performance of technologies. Key methods used are: - Life cycle assessment with specific interest in the consequential methodology - Multi criteria assessments of different technological scenarios - Computational modelling of material and substance flows - Techno-economic assessment of technologies under uncertainty over time and phased expansion - Physicochemical analysis of recovered materials and their benchmark against feed and fertilizer legislation

QuadrupleP: Microbial protein for people, planet and profit. 01/12/2022 - 30/11/2024

Abstract

Microbial protein is an alternative and sustainable protein source in animal feed and human food. Previous research demonstrated excellent replacement potential of less sustainable, conventional protein sources in aquafeeds and human diets. This project addresses engineering and nonengineering challenges to develop and implement novel microbial protein processes and products that are technically and societally viable. For the production of purple bacteria and aerobic heterotrophs, innovative secondary and renewable feedstocks will be considered. Microbial culture control tools and downstream processing innovations will be developed, along with their automation, to optimize the nutritional and functional quality of the biomass. To support decision-making on the implementation of novel 3 protein products and technologies, environmental impacts and social acceptance factors will be determined. The environmental impact of products and processes will be evaluated using life cycle assessment to determine whether they are superior to conventional protein sources. Social scientific inquiries, such as interviews and surveys, will be conducted to elicit acceptance factors of products and technologies.

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  • Research Project

BioCatcher 2: A smart bioscrubber turning ammonia emissions into valuable nitrate solutions. 01/09/2022 - 30/04/2024

Abstract

Healthy air is a key priority in Flanders, next to the extraction of resources from contaminated air and gases. The ammoniacal nitrogen (N) cycle needs our attention urgently. The current unsustainable management of ammoniacal nitrogen heavily impacts vulnerable ecosystems and our health. N recovery using acid scrubbing is widely applied but the use of mineral acids like sulphuric acid is expensive and dangerous. The production and transport of the mineral acids cause negative environmental impacts. The end product of scrubbing is an ammonium sulphate solution that acidifies agricultural soils with extra costs for liming. There is an important opportunity for more resource-efficient N management through N recovery from ammoniacal air and gases. We have the building blocks to develop technological solutions that use ammonia-rich air in a circular economy model as a raw material for the production of fertilizer. At the same time, we lower emissions and develop more sustainable pathways for the production of fertilisers. BioCatcher 2 studies an innovative bioscrubber concept based on microbial production of protons and nitrate. Development challenges relate to a smart coupling and control strategy between scrubbing and nitrification units, both operated under extreme conditions. The ammonia treatment and produced nitrate-based solutions have cost, safety and environmental advantages compared to acid scrubbing, and do not lead to soil acidification.

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  • Research Project

MAZE - Methods to analyze the environmental impact and recyclability in the circular economy. 01/06/2022 - 31/05/2024

Abstract

The circular economy action plan adopted in March 2020 is one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal that aims for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050 and to reduce other environmental impacts (e.g. nitrogen pollution, air pollution, biodiversity loss). The circular economy will require the increased utilization of residual streams (e.g. wastes and side streams) by creating new high value products from them. This may include the production of fertilizers, proteins or construction materials from waste streams as well as the substitution of fossil-based plastics by renewable alternatives. However, in pursuing the circular economy, it needs to be ensured that the environmental impacts of the novel goods are indeed lowered or that environmental impacts are not simply swapped between impact domains. In addition, by reusing waste streams new methodological challenges for the environmental assessments emerge including how to account for the impacts of waste generated upstream, what the systemic impact of new value chains based on waste/side stream products is and how to account for the difference in the quality of recyclates as compared to virgin materials. The objective of the MAZE project is to develop novel methods and approaches to improve the (prospective) evaluation of environmental impacts of products in the circular economy. The principal methods to be used in the project are life cycle assessment and material flow analysis. The research will address how upstream impacts of waste products can be accounted for, how product quality can be evaluated in environmental and material flow assessments and subsequently how information can be used in prospective decision making. Methods will be applied to a selected number of biobased materials/products to demonstrate their applicability. Thereby, outcomes of the project are in strategic alignment with the EU's circular economy action plan.

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  • Research Project

NUTRICHOICE: Assessment of choice behaviors and technological development shaping the circular economy for N and P. 01/11/2021 - 31/10/2025

Abstract

Phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) are essential for all forms of life. The demand for these nutrients is constantly growing as a result of a rising population. Since the primary production of fertilizers leads to serious environmental impacts, the EU has declared an urgent need to reinvent the farm-to-fork value chain. Flanders is a nutrient-intensive region with a large potential for N and P recycling, especially in concentrated waste streams from livestock production, food processing, and wastewater treatment. The possible recycling technologies that can be used to achieve a more circular economy in this region are manifold. In order to allow decision-makers to plan this transition, the NutriChoice project is going to apply an interdisciplinary approach from the fields of environmental system analyses, socio-economics, and engineering. Novel methods and insights are going to be developed in three areas: i) the elicitation of choice behaviours of actors along the value chain, to quantify the choice variables that shape transition pathways; ii) the development of a prospective technology assessment for N and P recovery; and iii) the development of scenarios (MFA) for N and P in 2050. Conceptual maps, multiple-criteria decision analysis, technology development, technological learning & diffusion, and ex-ante consequential MFA will be used to propose intervention strategies that can effectively reduce the impact of the agro-food system in Flanders.

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  • Research Project

Biocontrol of Xylella and its vector in olive trees for integrated pest management (BIOVEXO). 01/05/2020 - 30/04/2025

Abstract

BIOVEXO demonstrates a set of new and innovative biopesticides targeting the plant-pathogenic Xylella bacterium and its transmitting spittlebug vector, to fight a disease that seriously threatens olive and almond production in the European Mediterranean region. BIOVEXO's biopesticides will reduce the input of chemical insecticides and will sustainably increase and secure European olive cultivation in its valuable socio-economic context. The products will be tested for use in curative and preventive approaches (integrated pest management, IPM). BIOVEXO will provide a mechanistic understanding of the biopesticides' mode of action to support final product development and will ensure environmental and economic sustainability by performing a life cycle assessment (LCA) and risk, toxicity, and pathogenicity analyses. The University of Antwerp is mainly involved in the LCA activities. Thorough evaluation regarding regulatory compliance will prepare the products for smooth market entry post project.

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  • Research Project

Identifying best available technologies for decentralized wastewater treatment and resource recovery for India (Saraswati 2.0). 01/08/2019 - 31/07/2024

Abstract

The aim of SARASWATI 2.0 is to identify best available and affordable technologies for decentralized wastewater treatment with scope of resource/energy recovery and reuse in urban and rural areas. Further, it addresses the challenge of real time monitoring and automation. Ten pilot technologies will demonstrate enhanced removal of organic pollution, nutrients, micro-pollutants and pathogens in India. All pilots allow for resource recovery contributing to the principles of a circular economy, and undergo a comprehensive performance assessment complemented by an sustainability assessment. UAntwerp, in collaboration with TUDelft and IITKharagpur, is involved in one of these pilots which is based on an innovative raceway reactor producing purple bacteria on the wastewater. UAntwerp will furthermore perform life cycle assessments (LCA) on the pilot technologies.

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  • Research Project

Air2Protein: Nutritious and usable microbial food without arable land or fossil fuels. 01/06/2021 - 31/05/2023

Abstract

The increasing global population and living standards necessitate a protein transition for a more sustainable food system. A solution lies in microbial protein, i.e. the use of microbial biomass as alternative protein source for human nutrition. This is particularly sustainable when based on renewable electron and carbon sources that do not require arable land nor fossil fuels. This is enabled by the movements towards green electrification and carbon capture which yield new routes to H2, CO2 and compounds derived from CO2 (e.g. methanol, formic acid, acetic acid). Key challenges are to produce microbial biomass on these compounds that is nutritious and practically usable. In the Air2Protein project, a target-driven approach will be used to select the best strains, metabolisms and cultivation conditions starting from H2, CO2 and/or CO2 derivatives. Herein, not only the protein 3 content is of interest, but also essential amino acids and fatty acids, and vitamins. Furthermore, novel stabilization and other downstream processing methods will be explored. Air2Protein aligns with the sustainable H2 and CO2 based economy, and aims to contribute to novel nutritious and usable protein ingredients for the food industry.

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  • Research Project

WaterREACT (Water Reuse and Exchange Advanced Computational Tool): A decision support tool for planning circular water use in industry. 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Globally we are facing severe water stress and security challenges due to more frequent and serious droughts combined with increasing water demand by society. Industrial activities play a key role in societal water demand, while also frequently being the first to be affected by water shortages. For example, in the region of Flanders (Belgium), nearly a quarter of the gross value added is generated by industrial activities. Flanders is, however, also extremely water stressed with 40-80% of its water resources being utilized and 40% of the water demand being used by Flemish industry. Companies are also the first to lose their 'license to operate' in the event of drought; compromising their ability to generate economic output. The industry itself has voiced concerns about its resilience towards water shortage, yet it also admits to not being prepared to act upon it. Industrial water use is complex in terms of quantities, qualities and dynamics, rendering it difficult to uncover opportunities without the help of holistic computational tools. However, industrial sites offer opportunities for efficient water use and industrial ecology, as individual activities are located in close proximity and show diverse characteristics in terms of demand and supply. Efficient management of water with a focus on using 'alternative water sources' like reclaimed water and rainwater is therefore very important to support a sustainable growth of the Flemish economy. The Blue Deal of the Flemish government puts alternative water sourcing as a key goal, underlining the urgency of the challenge. The objective of the Water Reuse and Exchange Advanced Computational Tool (WaterREACT) is to prototype model code that minimizes water demand within industrial zones from external, 'conventional' sources, i.e. tap water, surface water and groundwater. WaterREACT aims to support planning for circular water and rainwater use at industrial sites. More specifically, the model algorithm will deliver computation-based decision inputs, through calculating scenarios that maximize water exchange based on alternative sources, and thus minimize dependency on conventional sources. Water demand and supply will be matched based on quantity, quality and temporality of the flows. Additionally, the proximity of the supply and demand points is accounted, along with the treatment options to upgrade water quality. Water exchange can be modelled for bilateral and multi-company exchanges. To support decision making, indicators considering water resilience, cost and environmental impacts are calculated for different scenarios. At an early stage of the project, customer demands will be elicited and use to define the minimal viable product and the valorization trajectories.

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  • Research Project

Quantification of nitrogen, phosphorus and protein flows in the food chain in Flanders: indicators for nutrient efficiency and circularity 01/09/2020 - 31/08/2021

Abstract

In NutriFlow, Ghent University, the University of Antwerp, the European Biogas Association and United Experts collaborate to execute material/substance flow analyses (MFA/SFA) for the Flanders Environment Agency (VMM). More specifically, flows of nitrogen, phosphorus and protein are targeted with the agri-food chain. Useful indicator parameters will be derived from these to score the sustainability of managing the related resources and products.

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  • Research Project

BioCatcher: Upgrading waste nitrogen in a biological scrubber to produce ammonium nitrate. 01/05/2020 - 31/10/2021

Abstract

Only around 20% of the N entering the EU agricultural system is converted to finished products for human consumption. This result in large leakage of reactive nitrogen into the environment with negative impacts on soils, water and air, which are associated with health problems and environmental damage. Although nitrogen is a renewable resource, the industrial synthesis of nitrogen to ammonia is highly energy-intense (in the Haber-Bosch process) and releases significant amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The industrial production of reactive nitrogen can be reduced by recovering nitrogen from waste streams as useful products to apply directly or indirectly (after further processing) as fertilizers. Flanders is designated as a nitrate vulnerable zone, which indicates the need for additional measure to protect and safeguard the environment. This highlights the need to increase nutrient usage efficiency through a more sustainable waste management system targeting the recovery and reuse of nutrients embedded in waste streams. Ammonium-rich liquid streams can be subjected to state-of-the-art stripping and acid scrubbing. Ammonia-rich gases or air with acid scrubbing. The extensive implementation of conventional stripping/scrubbing technology is prevented by several disadvantages: i) high operational costs, and ii) usage and storage of acids posing significant risks to human and environmental health. BioCatcher addresses these challenges as it aims to biologically and sustainably circumvent the use of scrubbing acids. In the project the operational boundaries will be explored and defined to understand the critical parameters. Secondly, a prototype reactor will be tested and optimised to overcome reach maximum concentrations of useful compounds. Finally, the economic viability will be evaluated.

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  • Research Project

Nitrogenisor: Microbial technology to generate N2 as neutral gas from urine in Space. 06/03/2020 - 28/02/2022

Abstract

Long-duration human spaceflight has gained more public interest in recent years yet comes with grand and unique engineering challenges. Cabin pressure is predominantly dictated by the amount of inert nitrogen gas present and small losses in long missions may create conditions not fit for life. At present day, no space technology exists to generate lost nitrogen gas from locally available resources. On Earth, nitrogen gas is microbially regenerated with bacteria performing denitrification or anammox, processes which have been successfully applied in for instance wastewater treatment plants. This study aims to extrapolate such microbial technology to space applications, where the nitrogen present in urine of astronauts can be converted to inert nitrogen gas. The "Nitrogenisor" will use partial nitritation/anammox as energy- and resource-efficient process with minimum co-production of carbon dioxide. Application of this process in a membrane-aerated biofilm reactor will enable gravity independent aeration. Nitrogenisor would decrease the need to haul nitrogen gas from Earth, while simultaneously mitigating risks linked to the waste produced on the spaceflight.

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  • Research Project

Sustainable multifunctional fertilizer - combining bio-coatings, probiotics and struvite for phosphorus and iron supply (SUSFERT). 01/05/2018 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

SUSFERT addresses the massive usage of mineral fertilisers in EU agriculture, which are largely based on nonrenewable resources, but are required in intensive crop production for meeting demands for food and feed. SUSFERT will develop multifunctional fertilisers for phosphorus (P) and iron (Fe) supply, which will fit into existing production processes and common EU agricultural practice.

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  • Research Project