Living Lab Circular seeks co-creation in a circular economy

The European Union produces more than 2.5 billion tonnes of waste every year. This enormous waste production and dependence on limited raw materials is increasing the demand for a circular economy. The thinking exercise about circularity has therefore been going on for some time: How can society use not only more renewable raw materials, but also the residual flows as much as possible? According to research center Inagro, agriculture has an important role to play. For the purpose of a more intense collaboration in the circular economy, Inagro is setting up the Circular Living Lab. A project is currently underway in greenhouse horticulture to feed residues such as tomato leaves to insects, a promising source of protein for the food and feed industry.

Agriculture has traditionally played an important role in circularity. For example, farmers closed nutrient cycles by adding fertilizer to the field, and harvesting and food scraps were used as much as possible as food and feed or compost. Agriculture also supplied renewable materials to other sectors, such as flax as a raw material for textiles and food as a raw material for dyes and medicines. Access to cheap non-renewable raw materials helped companies grow beyond the circular model.

The larvae of the black soldier fly are a source of protein

Produce within the boundaries of the planet
But the highly productive Western economic model is pushing its limits. The raw materials are depleted and the effects on the environment become more visible. In order not to exhaust the soil, more sustainable production and consumption are crucial. Circular economy makes it possible to produce materials and foods within the borders of the globe. Inagro sees an important role for the agricultural sector in the circular economy. The research center identifies four important watercourses that can be worked with, namely water, nutrients, biomass and energy.

“By introducing innovations, we can close circuits. And it does not necessarily have to be on the farm itself, “says Inagro. The West Flemish Research Center has been working for several years on circular innovations related to agriculture. Think of the recycling of water from the vegetable and potato industry as an irrigation source for crops or the reassessment of digestive residue to RENURE. And thanks to Agrotopia’s unique location, Inagro can look for an intertwining of the functions of agriculture, industry and the city. Think about recycling urban heat or CO2.

Cooperation needed
It is clear: cooperation and co-creation are crucial for the realization of a circular economy. “We believe we can achieve circularity with innovations that can close cycles in and between companies,” said Mia Demeulemeester, CEO of Inagro. Cooperation between farmers, industry, policy makers and research centers is needed. To facilitate this collaboration, Inagro is expanding its research activities in circularity with Living Lab Circular.

“Our stronger commitment to sustainable circular (agricultural) systems is an invitation to collaborate. Co-creation enables innovations to seep down from the laboratory to practice faster and, above all, more successfully,” explains Mia Demeulemeester. in our DNA to interact closely with stakeholders and end users during our research, so investing in a Living Lab feels very logical. ” Thirteen organizations have already agreed to actively participate in the Living Lab Circular steering group to promote co-creation in circularity.

(Pilot) infrastructure immediately makes ideas concrete
Living Lab Circular wants to connect agriculture, the food industry, society, chemistry and the manufacturing industry. Thanks to the practice-oriented research, Inagro has already developed a lot of pilot infrastructure that can be used to test and demonstrate concepts for the circular economy. “For example, a fermenter processes food, harvest and manure surpluses into biogas that can be used in all kinds of sectors such as heat or electricity source or microbial protein,” explains Reindert Dezaadynck, energy and circular economy researcher at Inagro.

In the field of greenhouse horticulture, a project is underway to feed residual streams such as tomato leaves to insects, a promising source of protein for the food and feed industry. Duck food, which can purify residual water from agriculture, fills the same role. In previous projects, Inagro has also explored the potential of producing paper from Brussels sprouts and using tomato leaves as a raw material in the production of fiber mats or even biostimulants and pesticides. “Storage and logistics are often the biggest challenges in those production cycles,” it reads.

Invitation to collaborate
The steering group, the pilot installations and the co-creation together make up the Circular Living Lab. It aims to further investigate, develop and demonstrate the role of agriculture in closing circuits. Companies, knowledge institutions and governments interested in collaborating can contact Reindert Dezaadynck via

Photo: © Inagro

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