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Projekt AlgalFertilizer

Algae delivering waste phosphorus to soil and cropsOptimizing the Phosphorus Cycle in the Sugar Beet Production Process by Phytase Supplement

Phosphorus (P) is a finite non-renewable resource, a major nutrient for plants, and a foundation of modern agriculture. Nevertheless, the efficiency of P usage today hardly reaches 20% with the rest ending in wastewater or carried away by runoff from fields to rivers and to the oceans. In this project, we will investigate the potential to close the cycle from waste back to agriculture by exploiting the capability of microalgae to accumulate large P quantities. This potential of algae for a ‘luxury P uptake’ will be combined with the benefit of delayed release of P from the algal biomass applied as a fertilizer to soil. To achieve our goal, we shall a) a) systematically investigate the capability of microalgal strains of the species Chlorella vulgaris to sequester P from wastewater effluent, b) study how P in algae-derived, P-rich fertilizer deploys to the soil and is taken up by plants, comparing the efficiency with traditional fertilizers, c) discover the molecular mechanisms underlying luxury P uptake and storage in algae and d) develop mathematical models providing a theoretical framework in which to interpret our experimental findings, to derive a systemic understanding of the P cycle, and to develop future strategies to optimize the results obtained during the lifetime of our project.

Depleting phosphorus resources are demanding new strategies for an efficient use of this essential nutrient. Therefore, especially phosphorus cycles in agriculture have to be closed. In sugar production this could be achieved in existing production processes by supplementing thermally resistant phytases.

Within the project PhytaPhoS these thermally resistant (Tm 80-90°C) phytases will be will be developed. They will be supplemented within the sugar extraction process to leach the phytate phosphate from sugar beet slices. With this procedure the P concentration in sugar beet slices and the export of phosphorous to areas with high animal density and P excess in fields will be reduced. Instead, isolated phosphorus will be transferred into spent lime and subsequently back to the sugar beet fields. The BioSC collaboration project PhytaPhoS will assess and evaluate the potential of P recovery employing phytase, its feasibility and economic approaches from lab scale to field application.


What is the relevance for bioeconomy?
A key goal of bioeconomy is the changeover from a fossil-resource economy to a sustainable one, relying on naturally re-growing resources. Our project focuses on phosphorus (P), which is essential for all agriculture and is currently mined from geographically constrained and limited phosphate rock deposits. We aim at using photoautotrophic microalgae for economically viable and environmentally sustainable recycling of P and other nutrients from wastewater effluent to plant fertilizer. In this way, waste will be converted into fertilizer for crop production by an energetically optimized photobioreactor. Our project has the potential to establish a completely novel branch of bioeconomy, focusing on phosphate resource management. Supplementing the already established production of kerosene by microalgae, our project contributes to the economic viability of algal biotechnology. By increasing the energy efficiency of the phosphate extraction process and algal fertilizer production, the CO2 footprint and energy requirements will be significantly reduced, economic viability increased and thus a transition towards a sustainable agriculture not based on limited resources supported. The project will provide a knowledge base for a potential new technology that can significantly reduce the losses of phosphate from wastewater effluent and return it to crop production.

Expected results and project products
Our project generates synergistic effects enhancing the complementarity of algal biotechnology and agriculture, by using the algal infrastructures for solar-driven recycling of phosphate and other nutrients from wastewater effluent to produce crop fertilizers.

Participating Core Groups
Partner 1: Dr. Ladislav Nedbal / Dr. Nicolai D. Jablonowski / Prof. Ulrich Schurr (Core Group leader), Forschungszentrum Jülich, IBG-2
Partner 2: Jun Prof. Oliver Ebenhöh (Core Group leader), HHU Düsseldorf, Quantitative und Theor. Biologie
Partner 3: Dr. Nina Siebers / Dr. Diana Hofmann/ Prof. Harry Vereecken (Core Group leader), Forschungszentrum Jülich, IBG-3
Partner 4: Dr. Tabea Mettler-Altmann / Prof. Andreas Weber (Core Group Leader), HHU Düsseldorf, Biochemie der Pflanzen
Partner 5: Prof. Wulf Amelung (Core Group Leader), University of Bonn, INRES Bodenwissenschaften

Prof. Oliver Ebenhöh, eMail:,

Contact Person

Jun Prof. Oliver Ebenhöh (Core Group leader), HHU Düsseldorf, Quantitative und Theor. Biologie

Project duration
01.11.2015 – 31.10.2017

Funding budget
AlgalFertilizer is part of the NRW-Strategieprojekt BioSC and thus funded by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.



PhytoPhoS is part of the NRW-Strategieprojekt BioSC


funded by the

Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of the German State of
North Rhine-Westphalia.