Life cycle inventory modeling of phosphorus substitution, losses and crop uptake after land application of organic waste products

Marieke Ten Hoeve, Sander Bruun*, Irina Naroznova, Camilla Lemming, Jakob Magid, Lars S. Jensen, Charlotte Scheutz

*Corresponding author for this work

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Purpose: Life cycle assessments (LCAs) that attempt to provide advice on treatment options for phosphorus (P) containing organic waste products encounter problems related to the quantification of mineral P fertilizer substitution, P loss and crop P uptake after land application. The purpose of this study was to develop a relatively easy to use life cycle inventory model, known as PLCI, that could be used to estimate these values. Methods: A life cycle inventory model for P was developed, which estimates the effect of an application of organic waste followed by ordinary fertilizer management in the modeling period. This was compared with a simulation without the initial waste application. The difference in mineral P fertilizer application (substitution), P loss and crop P uptake was then calculated and expressed as a proportion of the amount of waste applied. As an example, the effect of an initial application of mineral fertilizer, sewage sludge and ash on two farm types was simulated. These results were applied in an LCA case study of different sewage sludge treatment options. Results and discussion: Farm type influenced the P fertilizer substitution, loss and crop uptake factors. The application on an arable farm showed a substitution of 28 to 31%, relatively low P loss and a large spread in crop P uptake for the different P sources, compared with the pig farm. Application on a pig farm showed no mineral P substitution. For substitution, mineral fertilizer outperformed waste product fertilizer with a short modeling period, due to higher immediate P availability, which was not the case with a long period. The LCA case study showed that the P substitution factor had an influence on the environmental impact categories climate change and depletion of reserve-based abiotic resources while the P loss factor influenced freshwater eutrophication. Application of the P loss and substitution factors generated from the PLCI model resulted in higher environmental burdens and lower savings than using conventional factors. Conclusions: The soil P status mainly affected P substitution and loss, with the fertilizer type only having a small influence when soils had a low P status. The PLCI model can facilitate more coherent and rigorous estimates of P substitution and loss to be used in LCA studies involving application of waste products on agricultural land. This is important since P substitution and loss can have an important influence on impact categories, such as freshwater eutrophication and resource depletion.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number10
Pages (from-to)1950-1965
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Environmental Science (all)
  • Crop uptake
  • Inventory factors
  • Leaching
  • Loss
  • Model
  • Phosphorus
  • Substitution

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