Nowadays, hydroponic cultivation represents a widely used agricultural methodology. The purpose of this paper is to study comparatively on hydroponic substrates. This study is highlighting the best substrate to be involved in hydroponic systems, considering its costs and its sustainability.
Seven substrates were evaluated: rock wool, perlite, vermiculite, peat, coconut fibres, bark and sand. Life cycle assessment (life cycle inventory, life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) and life cycle costing (LCC)) was applied to evaluate the environmental and economic impact. Through the results of the impacts, the carbon footprint of each substrate was calculated.
Perlite is the most impacting substrate, as highlighted by LCIA, followed by rock wool and vermiculite. The most sustainable ones, instead, are sand and bark. Sand has the lower carbon footprint (0.0121 kg CO2 eq.); instead, bark carbon footprint results in one of the highest (1.1197 kg CO2 eq.), while in the total impact analysis this substrate seems to be highly sustainable. Also for perlite the two results are in disagreement: it has a high total impact but very low carbon footprint (0.0209 kg CO2 eq.) compared to the other substrates. From the LCC analysis it appears that peat is the most expensive substrate (€6.67/1,000 cm3), while sand is the cheaper one (€0.26/1,000 cm3).
The LCA and carbon footprint methodologies were applied to a growing agriculture practice. This study has highlighted the economic and environmental sustainability of seven substrates examined. This analysis has shown that sand can be the best substrate to be involved in hydroponic systems by considering its costs and its sustainability.
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