Towards a complete recycling of phosphorus in wastewater treatment – options in Germany

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Global reserves of mineral phosphorus are finite and the recycling of phosphorus from wastewater, a significant sink for phosphorus, can contribute to a more sustainable use. In Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, an increasing percentage of municipal sewage sludge is incinerated and the contained phosphorus is lost. This paper reviews current technologies and shows that a complete phosphorus recovery from wastewater is technically feasible. Depending on the composition of the sewage sludge ash (SSA), there are various options for phosphorus recovery that are presented. Iron-poor SSAs can be used directly as substitute for phosphate rock in the electrothermal phosphorus process. SSAs with low heavy metal contents can be used as fertilizer without prior metal elimination. Ashes not suitable for direct recycling can be processed by thermal processes. Operators of wastewater treatment plants can additionally influence the ash composition via the selection of precipitants and the control of (indirect) dischargers. This way, they can choose the most suitable phosphorus recovery option. For sewage sludge that is co-incinerated in power plants, municipal waste incinerators or cement kilns phosphorus recovery is not possible. The phosphorus is lost forever.

Keywords: phosphorus recovery, recycling, sewage sludge, sewage sludge ash, wastewater

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