Microbial Biotechnology (2020-09-01)

Storage, fertilization and cost properties highlight the potential of dried microbial biomass as organic fertilizer

  • Janne Spanoghe,
  • Oliver Grunert,
  • Eva Wambacq,
  • Myrsini Sakarika,
  • Gustavo Papini,
  • Abbas Alloul,
  • Marc Spiller,
  • Veerle Derycke,
  • Lutgart Stragier,
  • Harmien Verstraete,
  • Koen Fauconnier,
  • Willy Verstraete,
  • Geert Haesaert,
  • Siegfried E. Vlaeminck

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 13, no. 5
pp. 1377 – 1389


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Summary The transition to sustainable agriculture and horticulture is a societal challenge of global importance. Fertilization with a minimum impact on the environment can facilitate this. Organic fertilizers can play an important role, given their typical release pattern and production through resource recovery. Microbial fertilizers (MFs) constitute an emerging class of organic fertilizers and consist of dried microbial biomass, for instance produced on effluents from the food and beverage industry. In this study, three groups of organisms were tested as MFs: a high‐rate consortium aerobic bacteria (CAB), the microalga Arthrospira platensis (‘Spirulina’) and a purple non‐sulfur bacterium (PNSB) Rhodobacter sp. During storage as dry products, the MFs showed light hygroscopic activity, but the mineral and organic fractions remained stable over a storage period of 91 days. For biological tests, a reference organic fertilizer (ROF) was used as positive control, and a commercial organic growing medium (GM) as substrate. The mineralization patterns without and with plants were similar for all MFs and ROF, with more than 70% of the organic nitrogen mineralized in 77 days. In a first fertilization trial with parsley, all MFs showed equal performance compared to ROF, and the plant fresh weight was even higher with CAB fertilization. CAB was subsequently used in a follow‐up trial with petunia and resulted in elevated plant height, comparable chlorophyll content and a higher amount of flowers compared to ROF. Finally, a cost estimation for packed GM with supplemented fertilizer indicated that CAB and a blend of CAB/PNSB (85%/15%) were most cost competitive, with an increase of 6% and 7% in cost compared to ROF. In conclusion, as bio‐based fertilizers, MFs have the potential to contribute to sustainable plant nutrition, performing as good as a commercially available organic fertilizer, and to a circular economy.