Nutrient Recovery as a Viable Nutrient Control Alternative for Water Resource Reclamation Facilities


  • Wendell Khunjar PhD, PE, Ronald Latimer PE - Hazen and Sawyer
  • Samuel Jeyanayagam PhD, PE, BCEE - CH2MHill
  • Chirag Mehta PhD, Damien Batstone PhD - University of Queensland, Australia

An advantage of recovering chemical nutrient products is the fact that some of these products have use in alternative industries as outlined above.

This paper presents a state of the science review of nutrient recovery technologies with a special emphasis on bridging the knowledge gap currently faced by water resource recovery facilities when considering nutrient recovery for nutrient management. In this extended abstract, we suggest technology classification into accumulation-release-extraction and discuss challenges against and drivers for the implementation of these technologies. We also present a brief economic evaluation of the value of nitrogen and phosphorus products.

Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) are essential elements of all life forms and are extensively used in synthetic fertilizer production. These nutrients once incorporated into crops are ingested and reintroduced to the environment via liquid and solid wastestreams. To avoid the accumulation of these nutrients in the environment, we typically remove N and P prior to discharge to a water body. In this scenario, we supply energy and other non-renewable resources to constantly replenish nutrient supply for agricultural uses and then further supply energy and non-renewable resources to remove these nutrients from wastewater before discharge to the environment. This approach to nutrient management assumes a linear usage cycle which inherently posits that energy and resources are cheap and renewable. This is not the case.

Instead, recovery and reuse of nutrients provides us with an opportunity to reduce our reliance on nutrient cycling and fundamentally change the way that we view wastestreams. It should be acknowledged that nutrient recovery and reuse is not a new concept. It has been applied in different forms in the past e.g., land application of biosolids and reuse of secondary effluent for irrigation; however, extraction of a chemical nutrient product with low organic matter content, defined here as extractive nutrient recovery, has not been widely applied within the wastewater treatment industry. This paper reviews the current state of knowledge on extractive nutrient recovery. The information presented herein was generated as part of the ongoing Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) project titled: Towards a Renewable Future: Assessing Resource Recovery as a Viable Treatment Alternative (Latimer et al., 2012a).

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