Optimising the recovery and re-use of phosphorus from wastewater effluent for sustainable fertiliser development

Jessica G. Shepherd, Saran Sohi, Katherine Heal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recovery and re-use of phosphorus (P) from wastewater treatment systems as agricultural fertiliser presents an important and viable target for P waste reduction and recycling. In this study novel biochar materials for P filtration of wastewater were designed and produced using waste feedstocks, with consideration of the plant accessibility of the P captured by the biochars. The biochars were produced using batch slow pyrolysis at 450°C and 550°C from a) AD: anaerobically digested sewage sludge and b) OCAD: a 1:1 mixture of anaerobically digested sewage sludge and ochre, a mineral product from mine drainage treatment. A set of experiments was designed using pH buffering to provide a robust framework for assessing the P recovery capacity and affinity of the biochars compared to other potential P recovery materials (unprocessed ochre, activated carbon and zeolite). After 5 days of repeated exposure to a P solution at a wastewater-relevant concentration (0.02gPl(-1)) replenished each 24h, relatively high masses of P were recovered by ochre (1.73±8.93*10(-3)mgPg(-1)) and the biochars OCAD550 (1.26±4.66*10(-3)mgPg(-1)), OCAD450 (1.24±2.10*10(-3)mgPg(-1)), AD450 (1.06±3.84*10(-3)mgPg(-1)), and AD550 (0.986±9.31*10(-3)mgPg(-1)). The biochar materials had higher removal rates than both activated carbon (0.884±1.69*10(-2)mgPg(-1)) and zeolite (0.130±1.05*10(-2)mgPg(-1)). To assess the extractability of recovered P, P exposure was followed by repeated extraction for 4 days with pH 7-buffered deionised water. The AD biochars retained 55% of the P recovered, OCAD biochars 78% and ochre 100%. Assessment of potentially toxic element concentrations in the biochars against guideline values indicated low risk associated with their use in the environment. Our successful demonstration of biochar materials highlights the potential for further development of P filters for wastewater treatment systems from anaerobic digestate produced and pyrolysed on-site with energy recovery.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-165
JournalWater Research
Early online date18 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2016

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