Nutrient Recovery Gains Momentum

Dec 1, 2013

World Water Magazine

Nutrient recovery is gaining momentum in North America and Europe as water utilities have begun to recognize the significant benefits – economic and environmental – of recovering nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater resources. Recently, full-scale nutrient recovery plants have launched in Canada, England, Netherlands, and the United States. Research initiatives, including pilot studies, are underway in Canada, Denmark, and elsewhere to explore commercial opportunities and other methods to extract and recycle phosphorus from treated municipal wastewaters.

Nutrient pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems of the 21st century, according to the United Nations Environment Program. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff (e.g. fertilizer, animal manure), human sewage, and industrial emissions are major sources of nutrients in surface water, which causes algal bloom. Eutrophication, the accumulation of nutrients in an ecosystem, renders bodies of water – freshand salt water – devoid of the oxygen necessary to sustain aquatic and marine life. Destroying ecosystems and local economies based on commercial and recreational fishing, this anoxic/hypoxic effect has created massive low-oxygen dead zones in coastal environments. Dead zones have been observed in the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Chesapeake Bay (USA), Gulf of Mexico (USA), and in many other coastal locations in South America, China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. The problem is getting worse, not better.

An in-depth report by the European Commission’s 7th Science for Environmental Policy on “Sustainable Phosphorus Use,” released in October 2013, notes that a range of actions could reduce phosphorus losses to surface waters. These responses include: use less phosphorus on land and reduce soil erosion; optimize use of fertilizer and manure; and recover and recycle phosphorus.

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