Local-scale recovery of wastewater nitrogen for edible plant growth

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

An anaerobic/ion exchange (AN-IX) system was developed for recovery and reuse of wastewater nitrogen at point-of-origin. AN-IX combines upflow solids blanket anaerobic treatment with ammonium ion adsorption onto granular natural zeolite. AN-IX operates passively and without energy input. A 57 L empty-bed prototype was operated for 355 days on wastewater primary effluent. Total nitrogen removal exceeded 95% over the first 214 days of operation and ammonia reduction exceeded 99%; accumulation of oxidized nitrogen species (NO3 + NO2) was not observed. The wastewater flowrate was increased during the last 35 days of operation to deliberately exhaust the ion exchange media. Spent granular media was removed from the AN-IX prototype and deployed in plant chamber experiments for cultivation of Solanum lycopersicum (cherry tomato). Wastewater nitrogen captured on zeolite was capable of supplying the total growth requirement for nitrogen. Canopy volume and plant flowering and fruiting were higher for wastewater nitrogen than for artificial fertilizer. The AN-IX process is a passive, mechanically simple and reliable system for local-scale nitrogen recovery. AN-IX is modular, scalable, adaptable and can be applied in diverse treatment contexts and recycling scenarios. AN-IX benefits include appropriate technology for local-scale nitrogen recovery, low capital and energy costs, and protection of health and the environment.

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