New technology extracts valuable fertilizer from waste

May 30, 2014

Wisconsin State Journal

A new $3 million wastewater treatment process to be unveiled next week is designed to earn money for Madison’s sewage plant while reducing runoff of harmful nutrients into lakes and streams.

The Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant has begun selling fertilizer pellets it extracts from sewage.

The pellets release phosphorus into the soil slowly so that it isn’t carried by rainwater into lakes where it creates foul growths of algae and weeds.

The Canadian company that licensed the process for extracting the “eco-friendly” nutrient pellets is buying them for $336 a ton, said plant operations director Paul Nehm.

“We’re producing a ton a day and hope to increase that amount,” Nehm said. “We could probably get two tons a day as we refine the process.”

The fertilizer will be mixed with other compounds and sold to golf courses, landscapers, garden centers and other customers, said Phillip Abrary, CEO of Ostara, the Vancouver company that is using technology developed at the University of British Columbia.

“Despite the source, this is a highly pure, clean product,” Abrary said.

The chemical reaction that creates the pellets excludes heavy metals and other contaminants that can make their way into other nutrient products from sewage plants, Abrary said.

Nutrients from the fertilizer are released when they come in contact with organic acids produced by the roots of plants, he said.

“As a phosphorus-based fertilizer, it is a lot more efficient than a lot of other products,” Abrary said. “This is unique in that it is more directly plant-activated than other products.”

Madison’s treatment plant on Moorland Road is the seventh U.S. facility to employ Ostara’s process, Abrary said.

Six more are in the works in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain, he said.

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