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Nitrogen flows

The processing of nitrogen-containing goods and the processing of nitrogen in production processes gives rise to large flows in the Flemish economy and households. This processing also involves imports and exports of nitrogen across national boundaries. Nitrogen flows may be subject to losses which lead to emissions to air, water and soil. The effective extent of the emissions depends not only on the extent of the nitrogen flow through a sector but also on the production processes used and their efficiency.

The indicator "nitrogen flows" is based on substance accounting and substance flow analysis throughout the Flemish economy. In addition to the extent of the total substance flow in each sectoral node, the indicator shows the extent of the imports and exports at each node on the scale of Flanders. Imports are part of the total substance flow at the input side of the node. The food industry, for example, imports raw materials not only from neighbouring countries but also from Flemish agriculture. Exports are part of the total substance flow at the output side of the node (see figure below).

This indicator shows the activities that are at the origin of nitrogen emissions in Flanders. Within the DPSIR framework, this indicator is situated at the level of the driving forces. The sector classification deviates from the classification used in the MIRA core set 'environmental data'.
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D P S I R

Figures

Nitrogen flows, imports and exports per sectoral node (Flanders, 2009)

Source: VMM - MIRA
Data in Excel.


Progress

Largest nitrogen flows in chemical industry, energy and agro-food sectors

In 2009, the nitrogen flows in 11 nodes of the Flemish economy and households varied between 25 and 546 ktonnes N. The largest flow passes through the chemical and other industries (546 ktonnes N). These include the fertiliser industry and the paper industry, with the fertiliser industry processing 98 % of the nitrogen in the ammonia synthesis from inert nitrogen gas (N2).

The energy sector has a large nitrogen flow (462 ktonnes N) due to the nitrogen content of natural gas (14 %), which is neutral to the environment because it is inert nitrogen gas (N2). Emissions from the energy sector consist for 99 % of nitrogen gas (N2).

The agro-food sectors (cattle feed industry, agriculture split up into animal production and crop production, and food industry) form the main block within which intense exchange of nitrogen between the nodes takes place. Imports of nitrogen in the form of crops for cattle feed have been allocated to the cattle feed sector. The processing of manure has been allocated to the node 'biomass processing'. This also includes the composting of organic biological waste (fruit, vegetable and garden refuse, green compost and other organic waste) and industrial digestion with power generation. This relatively small flow (31 ktonnes N) is in full expansion and has therefore been included as a separate node.

The transport sector comprises all goods and passenger traffic in Flanders. Imports pertain to the nitrogen content of fossil fuels. Emissions to air are not regarded as exports, but constitute a substance flow to air in the amount of 65 ktonnes N.

Households and trade & service include residential nitrogen flows through food consumption (51 ktonnes N). Waste processing and public wastewater treatment process final production and consumption flows in Flanders. Public wastewater treatment comprises the interconnected sewer system (including sewer overflows) and sludge treatment.

Potential for reuse and recycling

Total imports across all nodes are estimated at 1,017 ktonnes N, or 1 million kg N. Exports amount to 656 ktonnes N. The difference, 362 ktonnes N, indicates the order of magnitude of the accumulation in the environment in Flanders in 2009, including inert N2 gas. A precise estimation of this accumulation or emissions is included in the MIRA core set 'environmental data'.

It shows that Flanders has a surplus of nitrogen available in waste and residual flows such as household waste water, organic biological waste and animal manure. This provides a large potential for reuse and recycling. Environmental gains can be achieved in the agro-food sectors in particular. Nitrogen can be reused and emissions to water, air and soil can be reduced.

More info

Nitrogen is emitted to air, water and soil and a precise estimation of the emissions to air and surface water is included in the MIRA core set environmental data. A description of the nitrogen flows is given in the abstract of the report Substance flow analysis for nitrogen and phosphorus in Flanders. The full report is available in Dutch on following link.

DPSI-R (de verstoringsketen)

De verstoringsketen is een veelgebruikt analysekader in de internationale milieurapportering. De keten schematiseert de oorzaken tot en met de gevolgen van de milieuproblemen.

Schakel 1 Driving forces (Maatschappelijke activiteiten) de onderliggende oorzaken van de milieuproblemen (productie, consumptie, transport, recreatie, enz.)
Schakel 2 Pressure (Druk) de directe oorzaken van de verstoringen brongebruik (energie, water, ruimte, grondstoffen) emissies (lozingen naar lucht, water en bodem, afval)
Schakel 3 State (Toestand) de resulterende toestand in lucht, water en bodem
Schakel 4 Impact (Impact) een inschatting van de negatieve gevolgen van de milieukwaliteit voor mens, natuur en economie
Schakel 5 Response (Respons) het (beleids)antwoord op deze verstoringen

Indicators



DPSIR-chain

The DPSI-R chain is a frequently used analysis framework in international environmental reporting. The DPSI-R chain outlines the causes to the impacts of environmental problems.

Link 1 Driving forces the underlying causes of environmental problems (production, consumption, transportation, recreation, etc.)
Link 2 Pressure the direct causes of the disturbances from resource use (energy, water, space, materials) and emissions (discharges to air, water and soil, waste)
Link 3 State the resulting state in air, water and soil
Link 4 Impact an estimate of the negative effects of the environmental quality for man, nature and economy
Link 5 Response the (policy) response to these disturbances

Indicatoren

positieve evolutie Positieve evolutie, met de doelstelling binnen bereik, of gunstige toestand.
onduidelijke evolutie Geen of beperkte evolutie, maar onvoldoende om de doelstelling te bereiken, of neutrale toestand.
negatieve evolutie Negatieve evolutie, verder weg van de doelstelling, of ongunstige toestand.
onvoldoende informatie beschikbaar Onvoldoende informatie.
De toekenning van smileys is geen exacte wetenschap maar veeleer een expertoordeel. Het 'oormerken' van indicatoren houdt onmiskenbaar het gevaar in van te sterke vereenvoudiging. Daarom wil de smiley de lezer vooral aanzetten om de bijhorende indicatorbeschrijving te lezen.

Indicatoren

positieve evolutie Positieve evolutie, met de doelstelling binnen bereik, of gunstige toestand.
onduidelijke evolutie Geen of beperkte evolutie, maar onvoldoende om de doelstelling te bereiken, of neutrale toestand.
negatieve evolutie Negatieve evolutie, verder weg van de doelstelling, of ongunstige toestand.
onvoldoende informatie beschikbaar Onvoldoende informatie.
De toekenning van smileys is geen exacte wetenschap maar veeleer een expertoordeel. Het 'oormerken' van indicatoren houdt onmiskenbaar het gevaar in van te sterke vereenvoudiging. Daarom wil de smiley de lezer vooral aanzetten om de bijhorende indicatorbeschrijving te lezen.

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