Fertilizer pellets for organic farming with insect repellent activity

Organic farming means refraining from the use of chemically synthesized pesticides and fertilizers. As a result, organically grown cabbage or rape seed are often plagued by the cabbage root fly, the common enemy of such plants, causing
great damages in crop yield.

Digestates contain valuable plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are essential for plant
growth. In addition there is a number of cyanobacteria, especially filamentous cyanobacteria from the Oscillatoriales family which display proven repellent activity against the cabbage root fly. By preventing it from depositing its eggs, the fly can no longer threaten the plant. This gave rise to the idea and goal of the EcoBug project of developing a new, combined product for organic farming: digestates were to be processed to fertilizer pellets together with cyanobacteria which act as a repellent against the cabbage root fly.

Project information

Project title

EcoBug – Development of an innovative industrial bioreacting and fermentation process producing an organic insect repellent-fertiliser for ecological farming


Project duration

December 2008 - January 2012


Coordinated by

  • Felleskjøpet Agri SA, Norway


Project partners

  • Naturland Verband für ökologischen Landbau e.V.
  • Felleskjøpet Agri SA
  • Associazione Italiana Agricoltura Biologica
  • Lithuanian association of ecological agriculture “Gaja”
  • Hungarian Biokultúra Federation
  • Bioskiva AS
  • Photon System Instruments
  • Haswell Moulding Technologies Ltd.
  • Siegfried Kriesten Garten- und Landschaftsbau GmbH
  • Talaš Jirí – Talaš Gardening
  • Coopaman
  • Geltz Umwelttechnologie GmbH
  • Vetek Kft.
  • Nor-tek
  • Institute of Plant Biology, Westungarische Universität
  • Heckmann Maschinenbau und Verfahrenstechnik GmbH

Cultivating cyanobacteria

Flat-panel airlift reactor

Cultivating cyanobacteria in the 30-liter flat-panel airlift reactor.

In flat-panel airlift (FPA) reactors developed by the Fraunhofer IGB even highly shear-sensitive microalgae can be cultivated photoautotrophically by simply using light, CO2 and mineral nutrients. In this project, processes for the repeated fed-batch as well as the continuous culture in FPA reactors were developed for the various filamentous cyanobacteria with proven repellent activity against the cabbage root fly. For the first time filamentous shear sensitive cyanobacteria were cultivated in FPA reactors and both growth rates and the achievable biomass concentration were optimized. The most important cultivation parameter in this process is the ratio of light input by way of the reactor surface to the cell concentration in the reactor.


The digestion of cow manure and nutrient recovery

EcoBug pellets

EcoBug pellets made of digestate from cattle manure plus 0,1% cyanobacteria.

The fertilizer pellets were made with digestates from the digestion of cattle manure collected from selected organic farms. The anaerobic digestion of cattle manure to biogas was optimized in a two-step gas-lift reactor with a reactor volume of 2 x 100 liters. With only 14-day hydraulic retention time a biogas production of approx. 300 liters per kg of organic dry mass was achieved. The digestate was dried and the fertilizing qualities of the dried digestate were examined and confirmed in pot experiments with German ryegrass at the Fraunhofer IME. The advantage of ryegrass is that fructification pruning can be carried out three times within a short, three-month period. This way a high level of nutrient depletion by the plant can be attained.

Drying and pelletization

Through cultivating the cyanobacteria in the FPA reactors, we were able to produce a sufficient amount of biomass for two selected strains. These were then dried and combined with the dried manure digestate before pelletization. The cyanobacterial mass and digestate were dried with superheated steam (superheated steam dryer, SHS), developed by the Fraunhofer IGB, to form stable cyanobacterial flakes and digestate under atmospheric pressure (working temperature 120–160 ° C, retention time 20–30 min). The use of superheated steam for drying provides excellent possibilities to optimize the drying process regarding drying time, energy consumption and other parameters such as product quality.

Combined fertilizer-pesticide pellets in field trials

EcoBug project diagram

EcoBug project diagram.

This way we were able to create combined fertilizer-pesticide pellets with two different cyanobacteria contents. The fertilizing effects and repellent activity of the pellets were subsequently tested in field trials on cabbage fields in Hungary and
Spain. Our project partners in both countries reached highly satisfying results: kohlrabi and white cabbage plants which were fertilized with the combined pellets grew significantly better than non-fertilized plants. None of the plants fertilized with the combined pellets in the field trials were infested with the cabbage root fly.


The positive outcome of the cabbage-growing field trials on repellent activity and fertilizing effects in Hungary and Spain has shown that now an excellent product, EcoBug-Pellets, for battling this pest is available for effective cabbage root fly control in organic farming. However, future endeavors will have to involve optimizing the various process steps in order to reduce production costs and offer the pellets at competitive prices. The fertilizer-pellet principle can also be applied to other digestates from the digestion of agricultural waste to make use of further organic residues as fertilizer pellets.


The research leading to results in this project receives funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n°  218467.

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