The Story of Success highlights innovative regional companies in Plant and Food science which are bridging the gap between research and industry. In this interview, Gunnar Thelin, the founder and business development manager of EkoBalans AB and former researcher at Lund University, introduces an innovative company that provides solutions for the sustainable recycling of nutrients through the development of circular fertilisers and soil amendments. What inspired the company’s creation? What technology does EkoBalans apply? Read the interview below!
Please briefly introduce your company.
EkoBalans delivers solutions for the sustainable recycling of nutrients and carbon in societies´ nutrient-rich residues, such as digestates, sewage, food industry waste, etc. We offer technical solutions for the handling of residues and refinement into circular fertilizer products and soil amendment products, as well as fertilizer and soil amendment products. The fact that the circular fertilizer products consist of approx. 50 % organic material and the nutrients present in an organic matrix means that the product can be used while improving soil health, contrary to salt-based artificial fertilizers, which degrade soil health, especially at high doses. Products can be applied with the same equipment as artificial fertilizers.
What was your motivation for starting the company?
I started the company from the realization that nutrients in residues are used very inefficiently or not at all and often lead to eutrophication where they accumulate in excess.
Can you tell us more about the technologies EkoBalans uses?
We combine our own proprietary technologies eco:N for nitrogen extraction and eco:P for phosphorus extraction from liquids with technologies for dewatering and drying to offer a complete solution for the handling of residues such as WWTP (Wastewater Treatment Plant), sludge and biogas production digestates. For the latter case, the dried organic phase can be combined with nitrogen and phosphorus extracted from both biogas plant and WWTPs in a pelletized product. For sludge, the organic phase contaminated with pollutants can be treated with pyrolysis to produce a sludge biochar.
What makes you different from other companies in your sector? What novelty do you bring?
We are different in that we offer both the technologies for the sustainable and efficient handling and use of residues, and the recycled fertilizer and soil amendment products. When we sell plants, we simultaneously offer to repurchase the raw material output, which we refine into fertilizers in our own plants. Our nitrogen extraction technology is novel and unique in that we recover the nitrogen in solid form while competitors recover it as a liquid. This is of great importance as the solid nitrogen, but not the liquid can be mixed with other solid raw materials in fertilizer production. In addition, our fertilizer products are designed to promote soil health and function in conjunction with regenerative agricultural procedures.
What type of market do you target?
For our technologies, the markets are the biogas sector, animal production agriculture, food industry, and WWTPs. For the products, we target all users of plant nutrients, from farmers of all kinds and landscaping entrepreneurs to private consumers.
Where are you now, and where will your company be in 5 and 15 years?
We are moving from a focus on innovation and development into a commercial phase. Our first circular fertilizer production plant is in start-up and optimization, and our nitrogen technology is implemented and being optimized at a WWTP.
In 5 years, we will be established as a major player in nutrient recovery and refinement, and our circular fertilizer products would have taken a substantial market share from artificial fertilizer producers.
In 15 years, several WWTPs would have been replaced by our concept RWP (Resource Water Plant) in which nitrogen and phosphorus are recovered while, at the same time, energy consumption has been minimized and a highly negative carbon footprint has been changed to a positive.
Thank you for a very interesting interview, Gunnar! We wish you and EkoBalans AB all the best in future endeavours!
(Photo: Gunnar Thelin, Nicklas Froborg)