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Engineered ecosystem services

Engineered ecosystem services


Engineered Ecosystem Services results from ecosystem health improving resource flows, infrastructure and technology systems mimicking nature – circular bioeconomic value chains exchaing resource with natural systems in ways that are restorative and regenerative by design.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are about restoring balance with local short-chained circular resource management systems designed for ecosystem health restoration.

Two examples of ongoing research themes delivering engineered ecosystem services such as e.g. climate change mitigation and environmental restoration are described below.

Seaweed cultivation and biorefinery

Seaweeds, which have been farmed in Asian countries extensively for decades, are now enjoying a growing interest in Europe and North America in offshore cultivation and onshore biorefinery owing to the scientific advances in the knowledge about the ecology, physiology, and chemistry of different seaweed species and biomolecules. Seaweed cultivation systems are eco-industrial biomass production system mimicking natural environment and life-cycle stages of seaweed biomass growth. They deliver green-engineered ecosystem services (examples see figure) and provide ecosystem-health restoration benefits.

During the growth, seaweed absorbs inorganic bicarbonate (dissolved atmospheric carbon dioxide) in marine waters and fix the carbon into carbon, contributing to climate change mitigation. Moreover, it assimilates excessive aqueous nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) emitted from aqua- and agricultural activities.

The offshore seaweed cultivation and harvest activities return produced seaweed biomass to land for bioconversions into various valuable output products that bring further environmental benefits; first, substituting commercial products with intensive ecological footprints, e.g., seaweed-based biogas can replace energy with fossil origin, and seaweed-based protein can replace soya-protein; second, optimizing the environmental performance of industrial systems and processes, e.g., seaweed-based feed supplement has been proven to be capable of reducing up to 99% methane emissions during the enteric fermentation process of milk cattle.

Therefore, transforming the seaweed feedstock from mariculture via biorefinery processes into high-value products creates a resilient bio-based production system characterized by circular closed-loop resource flows and ecosystem health preservation.

Removal of undesirable substances

The development of a bio-based economy is a top priority for future research and technology promotion in Europe, and secondary resources (such as food waste) and previously untapped marine biomass resources are promising feedstocks for the bio-product production. Such regenerative production systems facilitate the recycling of nutrients between different environmental compartments; for instance, seaweed cultivation and biorefinery return biomass developed based on emissions of anthropogenic activities to onshore biorefinery to provide various bioproducts (e.g., biofertilizer, food, animal feed, and biochemicals) suiting the demands of different industries and consumer society.

However, undesirable substances may also be brought back to the human society and even get concentrated in the bioproducts, e.g., cadmium in bio-fertilizer produced may reach consumers via the agricultural land application of the bio-fertilizer and the food production. Another example would be micropollutants in the wastewater streams, including pharmaceuticals, biocides, and micro-plastics. The removal of micropollutants is not covered by the regular routines of wastewater treatment plants, which address the organic loadings, nitrogen, and phosphorous exclusively. Micropollutants in the effluent discharged to natural water bodies may end up different ecosystem compartments causing various environmental impacts. One of the potential pathways can be bioconcentration of micropollutants in fish via food chains across trophic levels in aqua-environment, and this may result in human exposure via fish consumption.

To prevent the reoccurrence and bioconcentration of undesired substances in bioproducts, it is necessary to implement removal units in the regenerative production systems prior to the emissions and discharges to nature. Such removal units deliver green-engineered ecosystem service of, e.g., reducing eco-toxicity and purifying water. Moreover, with reduced human-induced disturbances to the natural environment, nature may restore its resilience and enhance natural ecosystem services that are fundamental to societal development.

For further information on our ongoing research activities please visit Engineered Ecosystem Services https://prezi.com/view/iL1M85h6Bj8pS0Iywgty/