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Short Rotation Plantations

Author/Compiled by
Niels Sacher (Xavier University)
Melba T. Mendoza (Xavier University)
Robert Gensch (Xavier University)
Dorothee Spuhler (seecon international gmbh)
Executive Summary
A short rotation plantation (SRP) is an integrated agro forestry land-use system combining biomass production with wastewater use and purification. Fast growing tree species are managed in short coppicing cycles. These non-food/non-fodder crops have a high demand for nutrients and water, which may alternatively be met by reusing pre-treated wastewater and sewage sludge, enabling a sustainable nutrient recycling. The woody biomass produced can be used as a renewable and clean fuel for heat and power generation, or for further processing into liquid biofuels.
Advantages
Provides a source of income to farmers
Alternative fertiliser and irrigation source from domestic wastewater
Increase in soil organic matter content and soil fertility
Opportunities to reduce costs for conventional wastewater treatment (investment, operation, disposal)
Opportunities to produce renewable biomass for local heat and power generation
Supporting local economy by establishing local biomass supply chains
Compliance with environmental legislation
Supporting sustainable rural development by reducing dependency upon fossil fuels
Disadvantages
Large area required, implementation only in rural areas
Requires high capital costs
Requires expert management
Might pose risks for soil and water quality
In Out

Blackwater, Greywater, Faecal Sludge, Fertigation Water

Energy Crops

The reuse of pre-treated domestic wastewater or sewage sludge for irrigation and fertilisation of energy crops in short rotation plantations is a new approach, which aims at using the nutrients contained in waste residues for an enhanced biomass growth.

 

Schematic of the short rotation plantation. Source: EUBIA (n.y.)

Schematic of the short rotation plantation. Source: EUBIA (n.y.)

The name short rotation plantation (SRP) is used, since usually fast growing tree species such as willows and poplars are planted, which are harvested after relatively short periods. The harvesting periods usually take between 2 to 8 years, but in the case of herbaceous plants or grasses it can be also annually (SUSANA 2009). The cultivation intensity, the high nutrient uptake and the frequent harvests require constant irrigation and fertilisation. By irrigating with (pre-treated) nutrient-rich wastewater, fertiliser costs are reduced, plant growth is enhanced, and waste products are subjected to a more sustainable treatment.

 

An irrigation pipe placed in a double-row of a willow plantation. Source: LARSSON (2003)

An irrigation pipe placed in a double-row of a willow plantation. Source: LARSSON et al. (2003)

While constructed wetlands focus mainly on wastewater treatment and are sealed at their base for groundwater protection, the advantage of SRPs over constructed wetlands lies in the combined wastewater treatment and the production of wooden biomass, which means an additional income for farmers. A SRP represents an open-bottom fixed-bed reactor of a construction height of between 1.0 and 1.5 m resulting in an effective reduction of pathogens (SUSANA 2009).

In order to avoid nutrient overload, the wastewater application has to follow a dosing recommendation depending on the site and plant species. In addition, the nitrate content has to be measured by soil samples or by sampling from drainage channels.

The following substrates can be applied on SRPs:

 

  • Domestic wastewater (which contains nutrients in ratios that are close to the nutrient needs of short-rotation-plantations),
  • Sewage sludge originating from domestic wastewater,
  • Industrial wastewater from food processing or beverage industries, and
  • Diverted human urine

 

Wastewater is usually applied on SRPs by means of surface irrigation in order to avoid aerosol formation and spread of pathogens by air.

Besides the above-mentioned benefits, there are also a number of critical points to consider:

 

  • Groundwater pollution (from nitrate, pathogens and toxic substances especially if industrial wastewater is applied) might occur and needs to be prevented
  • The increase in soil salinity resulting from the irrigation with wastewater (containing salts like e.g. sodium chloride and hydrocarbonates) might become a problem

 

To ensure environmental and hygienic safety, wastewater and sewage sludge must be pre-treated before being used in SRPs.

In the EU the agricultural application is regulated through the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC), Sewage Sludge Directive (86/278/EEC), and other national specifications defining maximum application loads for nutrients and chemical pollutants.

Pre-treatment further reduces pathogenic risks and allows compliance with local legislation for soil and water quality.

Applicability

Developing countries often suffer from a lack of available energy resources. Electricity, fuel or firewood are scarce resources. Here SRPs can provide an efficient and renewable source of energy. The implementation of such technology, particularly on larger scale, can furthermore create income and job opportunities for many people at a local level.
It has to be considered that a huge amount of untreated domestic sewage is required to fertilise the renewable biomass. By using sewage to fertilise and improve the soils this technology is also possible in areas with marginal and poor soils that are lacking nutrients and minerals. However the agricultural production site has to be appropriate for fast growing tree species — they should not compete with areas that can be used for agricultural food production.
In addition the risk of groundwater and surface water pollution can be reduced considerably through the application of partly treated wastewater and sludge to the wooden biomass.
 

Library references

Links between Sanitation, Climate Change and Renewable Energies

This factsheet of Sustainable Sanitation Alliance describes the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change and focuses on the advantages of renewable energies. Therefore many different technologies like production of biogas or short-rotation-plantations are mentioned.

SUSANA (2009): Eschborn. (= SuSanA fact sheet 09/2009 ). Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) URL [Accessed: 05.09.2010]

Short-rotation Willow Biomass Plantations Irrigated and Fertilised with Wastewaters

This report summarises results and experiences gathered from field trials with recycling of pre-treated wastewater, diverted human urine mixed with water, and municipal sludge, within plantations of willow species specifically selected for biomass production. Experimental sites were established in Sweden (Roma), France (Orchies), Northern Ireland (Culmore) and Greece (Larissa). The project “Biomass Short-Rotation Willow Coppice Irrigated and Fertilised with Municipal Wastewater” was carried out during a four-year period with financial support from the EU FAIR Programme.

LARSSON, S. ; WEIBULL, S. ; CUIGNET, C. ; CLAUSE, P. ; JACOBSSON, I. ; ARONSSON, P. ; PERTTU, K. ; ROSENQUIST, H. ; DAWSON, M. ; WILSON, F. ; BACKLUND, A. ; MAVROGIANOPOULUS, G. ; RIDDEL-BLACK, D. ; CARLANDER, A. ; STENSTROEM, T. A. ; HASSELGREN, K. ; (2003): (= Sustainable Urban Renewal and Wastewater Treatment , 37 ). Denmark: Danish Environmental Protection Agency, Danish Ministry of the Environment URL [Accessed: 04.08.2010]
Further Readings

Full-scale implementation of short rotation willow coppice, SRC, in Sweden

This paper contains information on short rotation plantations in Sweden. Beside the description of harvesting willow, they summarize historical facts and present information on willow varieties, policies and the way of using sewage for fertilizing.

LARSSON, S. ; LINDEGAARD, K. ; (2003): Orebro: Agrobraensle (AB) URL [Accessed: 04.08.2010]

Short-rotation Willow Biomass Plantations Irrigated and Fertilised with Wastewaters

This report summarises results and experiences gathered from field trials with recycling of pre-treated wastewater, diverted human urine mixed with water, and municipal sludge, within plantations of willow species specifically selected for biomass production. Experimental sites were established in Sweden (Roma), France (Orchies), Northern Ireland (Culmore) and Greece (Larissa). The project “Biomass Short-Rotation Willow Coppice Irrigated and Fertilised with Municipal Wastewater” was carried out during a four-year period with financial support from the EU FAIR Programme.

LARSSON, S. ; WEIBULL, S. ; CUIGNET, C. ; CLAUSE, P. ; JACOBSSON, I. ; ARONSSON, P. ; PERTTU, K. ; ROSENQUIST, H. ; DAWSON, M. ; WILSON, F. ; BACKLUND, A. ; MAVROGIANOPOULUS, G. ; RIDDEL-BLACK, D. ; CARLANDER, A. ; STENSTROEM, T. A. ; HASSELGREN, K. ; (2003): (= Sustainable Urban Renewal and Wastewater Treatment , 37 ). Denmark: Danish Environmental Protection Agency, Danish Ministry of the Environment URL [Accessed: 04.08.2010]

Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) Production in Italy

This paper describes biomass production from short rotation plantations in Italy to generate heat and electricity. It summarizes economic, ecologic and technical facts.

SPINELLI, R. ; (2006): Sesto Fiorentino, Italy: National Research Council (CNR)
Case Studies

Potential of short rotation woody energy crops for solid biofuel production in Latvia

This one-page poster/factsheet provides core information on a doctoral study at the Latvia University of Agriculture on the potential of short rotation energy crop production in Latvia, which has been conducted between 2005-2008 and gives useful links to further information.

LAZDINA, D. ; LIEPA, I. ; (2009): Salaspils, Latvia: Latvia State Forest Research Institute “Silava”, Latvia University of Agriculture Forest Faculty
Awareness Raising Material

Links between Sanitation, Climate Change and Renewable Energies

This factsheet of Sustainable Sanitation Alliance describes the impact of greenhouse gases on climate change and focuses on the advantages of renewable energies. Therefore many different technologies like production of biogas or short-rotation-plantations are mentioned.

SUSANA (2009): Eschborn. (= SuSanA fact sheet 09/2009 ). Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) URL [Accessed: 05.09.2010]

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