Full-Circle Nutrient Management Using an Aquatic Biomass for Regenerative Agriculture in the State of Pennsylvania

Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agricultural runoff is the leading cause of eutrophication in the Chesapeake Bay, followed by discharges from wastewater treatment plants. This project evaluates the feasibility of full-circle nutrient management by using duckweed to absorb nutrients from wastewater effluents and agricultural runoff. Duckweed can then be applied as a sustainable soil amendment to support regenerative agriculture. This approach reduces nutrient loading from wastewater effluent and fertilizer runoff into receiving waters; decreases energy demands for water treatment and fertilizer production; and can easily be applied in local communities with limited resources that may need to improve water quality and crop production. The feasibility of this approach will be measured using Project Drawdown’s models of these solutions to understand the emissions reduction capabilities, financial productivity, and adoption potential in the state of Pennsylvania. Our secondary goal is to create educational material on regenerative agriculture and nutrient management for the public. Although the basic technical feasibility of this solution has been demonstrated in Dr. Brennan’s lab, this project will investigate these opportunities for a local watershed by conducting a thorough techno-economic analysis using Project Drawdown’s models. Fast growing aquatic plants like duckweed have the potential to enable local communities to simultaneously treat their wastewater and retain critical nutrients that are fundamental to agriculture. Producing soil amendments near the point of use reduces energy consumption that would otherwise be required for synthetic fertilizer production and transportation, and the retention of nutrients in soils increases soil fertility, reduces eutrophication, and contributes to global ecosystem health. This full-circle approach represents a new paradigm for wastewater treatment which could help decrease the severity of the looming food- energy-water crisis by making ecological wastewater treatment and sustainable crop production more practical.

Monday Poster Session
Georgia Christopoulos
Ashleigh Henry
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