The circular economy, a long-known principle
In 1966, Kenneth Boulding, an American economist and philosopher, introduced in his thesis ”The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth”, the principle of a closed-loop economy in which waste could be valorized, recycled, and reintroduced into the production process. Given the growing population, limited natural resources, and the impact of pollution, Boulding considered that the earth could not, in the long term, meet the needs of an ever more consuming civilization. In this logic, the earth could be compared with a spaceship, in which it was crucial to manage resources in a context of circularity, and to produce in a closed circuit to ensure its sustainability.
Simple in its definition, logical, and pragmatic, the circular economy had however to pass from the state of a concept to an economic reality, which implies a change of paradigm and the progressive abandonment of the linear economic model, however still predominant today.
The circular economy… an economic impact, certainly, but also an environmental reality
In a linear economy, we extract natural resources, integrate them in our production circuits of products that we consume, and whose manufacture and consumption generate waste in large quantities. Faced with the accumulation of this waste of all types, it seems logical, from an economic point of view, and faced with the financial, logistical and organizational stakes that their management constitutes, to envisage a reuse of this waste, to valorize it to reduce the production costs, or even to give it a second life by giving it a second role. The waste and recycled materials are thus reintegrated into the economic circuit. Initially, the concept of circular economy, was essentially attached to solve the problem of waste management, and to the definition of profitable economic models to value them.
With a bit of hindsight, and considering the functioning of natural ecosystems, we can see that there is a universal principle of circularity, and that nature functions in a multitude of cycles of transformation of waste, and their rehabilitation. This is the case, among others, of the disorganization of plant waste, of its mineralization by bacteria, fungi and microfauna, and of the dynamics of the soil.
From this example, the circular economy acquires a new dimension. It is no longer a question of recycling waste for purely economic purposes, but rather of considering the environmental impact and thinking about an ideal scenario where the recovery of this waste generates environmental benefits. Current industrial practices and consumption patterns are putting pressure on natural resources and environmental quality. The way of thinking is evolving, and today we talk about eco-conscious production, limiting the extraction of natural resources, using sustainable supplies via co-products (waste), energy optimization, and production methods that limit greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, the waste of one becomes a supply resource for others.
The circular economy expands its definition; that of an economic system that creates value by valuing waste in an eco-conscious approach to reducing environmental impact.
The circular economy in the agricultural context
In agriculture, biological cycles are the foundation of this circular economy. Indeed, the circular economy, in its definition of an economic model that aims to preserve the environment, fits perfectly into a mode of agricultural production by optimizing the use of available resources, and by re-injecting them into the production circuit.
The optimized management of phosphorus is a particularly representative example. Phosphorus is one of the three macro-elements, along with nitrogen and potassium, necessary for plant production. It is therefore intensively used in agriculture. However, phosphate rock deposits are not inexhaustible, and a possible shortage of this element is expected within a hundred years for the most optimistic scenarios. Phosphorus is found in significant quantities in animal waste from the livestock sector. Promoting the use of this alternative is therefore part of a circular economy approach.
Organic agriculture, which advocates a reduction in the use of external inputs (water, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers), displays a strategy of sustainability, reduction of environmental impact, and a circular economy model. This practice, which promotes the reuse of organic matter from agricultural production cycles (livestock and plant crops), results in the protection of soils and waterways, notably by limiting soil saturation in certain elements, including phosphorus.
The circular economy in organic agriculture reduces the amount of waste, optimizes the use of land and is free of any dependence on synthetic fertilizers, while producing foodstuffs sought after by consumers concerned about reducing waste, their health and the future of the environment.
According to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the implementation of a circular agriculture in Europe, not necessarily organic, could lead to a 45 to 50% decrease in the use of fertilizers and pesticides, significant water savings, and a 20% reduction in the use of land, electricity and fuels, and associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Solugen, a player in the circular economy
Solugen’s technology solves the challenges of conventional pig manure management. Solugen’s energy-efficient treatment converts pig manure into pure water and valuable fertilizers.
Solugen is therefore positioned as a partner of the pork industry and of agriculture, particularly organic agriculture.
- By treating 10,000 m3 of liquid manure per year, the equivalent of a medium-sized hog farm in Quebec, our innovation reduces, on average, the number of times liquid manure is transported to the landfill by 425. Solugen’s technology contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gases. The treatment of 10,000 m3 of liquid manure generates a reduction of 572 tons of CO2 equivalent.
- The process captures and recovers the ammonia from the manure instead of it volatilizing to a large extent and becoming an atmospheric pollutant.
- Water is a global issue. Solugen’s technology recovers 84% of the treated volume as pure, reusable water.
- By concentrating most of the phosphorus in a biosolid extracted from Solugen’s treatment, the management of this element is facilitated and reduces the risk of eutrophication of waterways.
- By valorizing the fertilizers extracted from the treatment we create a circular economy.
- Conventional agriculture produces feed for livestock.
Pigs feed on feed and generate liquid manure
Liquid manure is treated by Solugen technology to extract fertilizers and water (reused on the farm)
The liquid nitrogen fertilizer is used for organic farming
The other fertilizers are used by conventional agriculture