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Harvesting agricultural fertilizers from wastewater sludge

By Scott Jenkins |

Recovery of the essential plant nutrient phosphorus from wastewater can be an effective way to reduce runoff into waterways while avoiding the need to obtain the element from mined minerals. While phosphorus recovery from wastewater effluent performs well, it is much more difficult to harvest phosphorus efficiently from sewage sludge. A new process can harvest 1.5-times the amount of phosphorus from sewage sludge than possible with conventional technologies, while producing a valuable P-containing mineral, known as brushite, for agricultural fertilizer. In May 2017, Nutrient Recovery and Upcycling LLC (NRU; Madison, Wis.; www.nrutech.com) started up an optimized version of its pilot plant in a new partnership with CNP/Centirsys, a municipal wastewater treatment company. In the patented process, sewage sludge first enters a short-retention anaerobic acidogenic digester, where bacteria break down the biopolymers into organic acids and release phosphorus into solution. The low-phosphorus solids are centrifuged and separated. “For the process to work, we need to separate the acidogenic portion of the process from methanogenesis portion, in which methanogens convert organic acids to methane and CO2,” says Menachem Tabanpour, NRU president. The…
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