Nitrate problems are soluble – but who pays?

The world needs to double food production by 2050 but the use of Nitrate fertilisers, which dramatically increase crop yield, has resulted in heavy nutrient loads in surface and groundwater. This leads to algal blooms and eutrophication which can result in the death of fish and invertebrates. In addition to the damage caused to aquatic environments, water companies have to spend a lot of money treating drinking water to reduce nitrates to acceptable levels.
This article summarises the results of an EC LIFE Environment funded project NITRABAR in which researchers from the University of Strathclyde and its partners have demonstrated a technique which reduces nitrates by over 90%.
A large number of Europe’s rivers will need NITRABAR, so the next step is to figure out who pays?

In a news story covered in the Read-out Signpost news section (31 July 2009) on Quantitech’s FTIR analyser we came across a reference to an EU funded programme called NITRABAR.

Nitrate pollution in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and underground aquifers is a major problem. However, researchers from Belgium, Malta, Poland, and Britain have developed a new low cost, environmentally friendly technology, known as ‘NITRABAR‘ which substantially removes nitrate from groundwater. The project is an EC LIFE Environment Project that demonstrates the remediation of agricultural diffuse NITRAte polluted waters through the implementation of a permeable reactive BARrier.

Algal blooms have become an unfortunate feature of many water systems. In extreme cases, oxygen depletion results in the death of invertebrates and fish.

The NITRABAR system, designed by Prof. Robert Kalin, Professor of Environmental Engineering for Sustainability, Head of Department, Civil Engineering and Director of Research, David Livingstone Center for Sustainability at the University of Strathclyde (GB), consists of a trench containing a mixture of natural materials which form a permeable reactive barrier that removes nitrate from shallow groundwater immediately before it enters rivers or lakes.

A key feature of the NITRABAR system is its ability to convert dissolved Nitrates in the groundwater to harmless Nitrogen gas through the action of bacteria.

A team of experts, led by Professor Kalin, has been collecting monitoring data at a trial site in Ballymena, N. Ireland since early 2008 and results indicate that nitrate is being effectively removed within the barrier, with concentrations at the inlet being reduced by over 90%.

Now that the science has been proven and the environmental and financial benefits have been calculated, the only outstanding issue is funding.

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