Active filtration, where effluent is passed through a reactive substrate such as steel slag, offers a simple and cost-effective option for removing phosphorus (P) from effluent. This work summarises a series of studies that focused on the world's only full-scale active slag filter operated through to exhaustion. The filter achieved 75% P-removal during its first 5 years, reaching a retention capacity of 1.23 g P/kg slag but then its performance sharply declined. Scanning electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, X-ray fluorescence, and chemical extractions revealed that P sequestration was primarily achieved via adsorption onto iron (Fe) oxyhydroxides on the slag's surface. It was concluded that batch equilibrium tests, whose use has been repeatedly proposed in the literature, cannot be used as an accurate predictor of filter adsorption capacity because Fe oxyhydroxides form via chemical weathering in the field, and laboratory tests don't account for this. Research into how chemical conditions affect slag's P retention capacity demonstrated that near-neutral pH and high redox are optimal for Fe oxyhydroxide stability and overall filter performance. However, as Fe oxyhydroxide sites fill up, removal capacity becomes exhausted. Attempts to regenerate P removal efficiency using physical techniques proved ineffective contrary to dogma in the literature. Based on the newly-developed understanding of the mechanisms of P removal, chemical regeneration techniques were investigated and were shown to strip large quantities of P from filter adsorption sites leading to a regenerated P removal efficiency. This raises the prospect of developing a breakthrough technology that can repeatedly remove and recover P from effluent.
Keywords: active filters, phosphorus, slag, wastewater