Ostara Featured on BBC People Fixing the World
People fixing the world – The Treasure in Our Toilet
As featured on the BBC Podcast “People Fixing the World;” March 24, 2020 Episode: The Treasure in Our Toilets
Reflections on “People fixing the world” – How Ostara Is Cleaning Water to Help Grow More Food
Author: Robert Van Spingelen, Director of Business Development, EMEA, Ostara
In February 2020, a podcast host was on the hunt for brilliant solutions to the world’s problems. The program, “People Fixing the World,” regularly features the people and companies around the globe who are using their ideas to make the world a better place. Ostara was selected to feature in an episode of this program, focused on phosphorus sustainability, and I had the pleasure of giving the hosts a small glimpse into our Nutrient Recovery Facility in Amersfoort, The Netherlands.
The Amersfoort facility is one of twenty-two of Ostara’s phosphorus recovery installations worldwide. The entire wastewater treatment facility, owned by Vallei en Veluwe, has an 11-hectare footprint, so naturally (a Dutchman in my own backyard), I took the BBC hosts on a typical Dutch bike tour to the different installations involved in municipal wastewater treatment before arriving at our nutrient recovery facility.
Getting Down to the Basics – Nutrient Recovery
For the first stages of filming we visited the Amersfoort treatment site, where they separate solids and liquids leaving a nutrient-rich organic stream. In the past, and in some places without infrastructure to support treatment, liquid streams would be discharged into rivers and lakes, or sent back to treatment works for further treatment. Today, this liquid stream is now being seen as a valuable source of renewable phosphorus. Trapped in the liquid, are high amounts of pure Phosphorus and Nitrogen, waiting to be reclaimed and put to use. This is where Ostara enters the picture.
This concentrated liquid, packed with nutrients, is fed into our proprietary technology, the Ostara Pearl® fluidized-bed reactor. It is here we crystalize magnesium-ammonium-phosphate from the water, building the nutrients like a pearl in a controlled pH environment. Creating the perfect environment for a natural, chemical reaction to occur, we extract pure nutrients from the liquid to create struvite granules, gradually growing in diameter. Once the granules reach the desired size, we sieve the granules out of the water — leaving us with cleaner water, and a beautiful supply of pearl shaped fertilizer (which Ostara’s sells under the Crystal Green® brand), that can be used straight-away at the farm or in the garden.
Helping Fix the World with Crystal Green®
The beauty of the Ostara process is we get both cleaner waters, and a pure, granular fertilizer that can help the world sustainably grow more food. Phosphorus is essential to all life, and a limiting factor in maximizing crop yields (along with nitrogen and potassium), but it is considered a finite resource. As our population grows, and fertilizer demands increase, it becomes more important than ever to find ways to recycle, recover and reimagine our phosphorus supply.
Made with recovered nutrients, Crystal Green® helps close the loop on phosphorus, and uses a renewable source of phosphorus (wastewater) to preserve our global reserves. While the Ostara process can recover phosphorus from any waste stream high in phosphorus (industrial, phosphate mining, municipal), I have a fondness for the transformation that takes place at our municipal plants and the beautiful, white pearls we produce from the urban waste streams treated there.
It isn’t just how it’s made that closes the loop, though. As a registered, continuous release fertilizer, Crystal Green works with plants and the soil, to distribute nutrients. As plants grow, their roots exude acids in the soil that beautifully work to dissolve the Crystal Green® granules. Thanks to their lower salt and unique Root-ActivatedTM solubility, and they do not burn the roots or seeds, like we can see in ordinary garden and farm fertilizers. These incredible granules will not leach or runoff back into the environment — they are only activated by the plant growth, essentially giving plants nutrients they need, when they need them. Actually, these phosphorus granules are in a non-reactive state in the environment until a root is close by to active them, so all the phosphate dissolved is taken up by the plant and not wasted in places it shouldn’t be, like tied-up in the soil or dissolved into waterways. Our 9-plus years of research has shown higher yields and better crop uptake, but I think, excitingly, it has shown that we can offer our growers — our stewards — innovations and choices when it comes to what we put in our soil, and what we get out of it.
I must admit… in the 20 odd years I have been working in the fertilizer industry it makes my heart tick to see how simple it is to close the phosphorus cycle and make a valuable product that is better (environmentally, agronomically, economically) than what we use now! It has changed my perspective of humans. We are not just people; we are also walking phosphate and we can be part of the change that creates value from waste, helping to fix the world’s problems together.