Marta Cattin

Name: Marta Cattin

Project title: Optimising the economic and environmental benefits of anaerobic digestion within UK agriculture

Where based: Lancaster University


During my Bachelor’s Degree, I studied “Science and Technology for the Environment” (essentially Environmental Chemistry) at the University of Padua, which is one of the best (and oldest) universities in Italy. During this period, I had the opportunity to study very interesting soil-related subjects such as geochemistry, hydrology, etc. However, since I have always been interested in agriculture and livestock sectors, for my Master’s Degree I decided to study their environmental impacts and remediation techniques. In 2016, I won a scholarship with the “Erasmus” programme and I spent 6 months at the Aberystwyth University (Wales), where I collaborated with an in vitro project. Our aim was to find a possible additive that could reduce the emission of CH4 from ruminants, without effecting their natural production and health. Afterwards, when I came back from Wales, I was given the opportunity to work with an in vivo project for another 5 months (during which I had a supervisory role). The aim of the project was essentially the same as the previous one but, since this project was in vivo, I had the opportunity to see the challenges in testing the additives with real ruminants. In conclusion, these two experiences inspired me, and when I saw the advertisement for my current project, I decided to apply because I have the appropriate background/experience/motivation.

Project description:

Farmers have been widely encouraged to adopt on-farm anaerobic digestion for producing energy and heat. A digester receives a range of feedstocks, in particular livestock manure and a combination of agricultural waste products. These materials go through the process of anaerobic digestion during the retention time within the digester in order to produce biogas which is subsequently used to fuel combined heat and power plants on the farm. The residue that remains after the retention time, called digestate (AD), can be returned to agricultural soil at the expense of inorganic fertilizers. However, whether AD should be considered primarily as a soil improver or a fertilizer is still not clear. Moreover, it has been shown that after application to agricultural soil, AD can still lead to some environmental issues such as emission of greenhouse gases, leaching/runoff of nutrients and modification of the soil microbial community. However, there remain many uncertainties surrounding the net effects and the underlying mechanisms associated with AD application to agricultural soils. Reducing these uncertainties provides the broad context for my PhD.

The aims of my PhD project are to understand and quantify the environmental impacts that AD can produce in agricultural soil in order to improve the utilization of this material to support agricultural production. The project involves collaboration with an external project partner, Cockerham Green Energy Ltd, who will provide AD for use in the project and allow us to carry out field experiments on a grassland farm.

Additional personal information: 

I am Italian, from Padua, so I think I should spend acouple of words on my beautiful city. If you have the opportunity, I suggestyou to go and visit! Padua is home to the oldest Botanical Garden in the worldthat is still in its original place, dated 1545. In 1997, it was listed byUNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The University of Padua was founded in 1222, whereGalileo Galilei was a lecturer. Unfortunately, it is not the oldest Universityin Italy, which is the University of Bologna.

Other popular attractions in Padua are the ScrovegniChapel, which was painted by Giotto in 1305, and Prato Della Valle, which isthe biggest square in Europe.

Moreover, Padua is only 30 minutes far from Venice bytrain!

Padua offers beautiful countryside as well. Ispent most of my childhood playing with soil, insects and fishing with my dad,who was an important influence in my decision to study Environmental Science.