Trends in the recovery of phosphorus in bioavailable forms from wastewater

Patrick Matthew Melia, Andrew B Cundy, Saran Sohi, Peter S Hooda, Rosa Busquets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Addressing food security issues arising from phosphorus (P) scarcity is described as one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st Century. Dependence on inorganic phosphate fertilisers derived from limited geological sources of P creates an urgent need to recover P from wastes and treated waters, in safe forms that are also effective agriculturally – the established process of P removal by chemical precipitation using Fe or Al salts, is effective for P removal but leads to residues with limited bioavailability and contamination concerns. One of the greatest opportunities for P recovery is at wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) where the crystallisation of struvite and Ca-P from enhanced biological P removal (EBPR) sludge is well developed and already shown to be economically and operationally feasible in some WWTPs. However, recovery through this approach can be limited to <25% efficiency unless chemical extraction is applied. Thermochemical treatment of sludge ash produces detoxified residues that are currently utilised by the fertiliser industry; wet chemical extraction can be economically feasible in recovering P and other by-products. The bioavailability of recovered P depends on soil pH as well as the P-rich material in question. Struvite is a superior recovered P product in terms of plant availability, while use of Ca-P and thermochemically treated sewage sludge ash is limited to acidic soils. These technologies, in addition to others less developed, will be commercially pushed forward by revised fertiliser legislation and foreseeable legislative limits for WWTPs to achieve discharges of <1 mg P/L.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-395
Early online date25 Jul 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jul 2017


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