Sustainable food security - RUSTICA


rustica.pngThe RUSTICA project (Demonstration of circular biofertilizers and implementation of optimized fertilizer strategies and value chains in rural communities), funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme over the next 48 months, comprises 16 participants among research/academic institutions and industry across Europe. The Rustica Project is coordinated by KU LEUVEN.

Project description

Currently, crop production is heavily relying on the Haber-Bosch process for reactive nitrogen production, and mining for phosphorus and potassium needs. However, only 14% of the initial reactive nitrogen will end up on a consumers’ plate, emphasizing the huge nutrient losses along the food production chain, e.g., through over-fertilization or wasting of crop residues. In Europe, 16 million tonnes of mineral fertilizers are applied annually. Thus, a surplus of 51.1 kg N/ha is added on average to agricultural land in Europe. At the other side of the spectrum, an estimated 80 million tonnes of fruit and vegetable processing waste is produced yearly at the European level, which contains close to 1 million tonnes of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK).

The RUSTICA project aims at bridging this gap between the nutrient losses in the form of agricultural residues and the nutrient imports in Europe by integrating and demonstrating 6 complementary technologies with high nutrient recovery potential to treat residues from the fruit and vegetable sector and turn them into a variety of fertilizer ingredients which will be formulated in tailor-made soil amendments and high effective fertilizers, targeting the replacement of 5-10% of mineral fertilizer with bio-based alternatives by 2040.


The objective of the project is to foster the technical validation, demonstration, and implementation of bio-based fertilizer and soil improvement production techniques focusing on waste from the fruit and vegetable agro-food system to close nutrient cycles on a regional level.

This will be achieved through a transdisciplinary multi-actor approach aimed at validating, demonstrating, and integrating 6 technological options for mineral nutrient recovery from fruit and vegetable waste streams in multi-valorization configurations in 4 regions across the European Union.

Role of Ghent University

The Particle and Interfacial Technology Research Group (PaInT) at UGent, led by Professor Emile Cornelissen, will develop a novel electrodialysis-based procedure to separate nutrients, specifically, NH4+, P2O5, and K+ (NPK), from different carboxylic acids; both products of the carboxyl acid platform to degrade gruit and vegetables by-products and residues. Also, novel strategies for preventing and mitigating the fouling of ionic exchange membranes, a key drawback that membrane-based processes face, will also be developed and implemented during the pilot demonstration, where fouling resistant membranes will be tested.



Prof. Emile Cornelissen
Department of Green Chemistry and Technology
Phone number: +31 6 53508928