LONDON, UK, September 29, 2010 -- A £2 million project that will see phosphorous extracted from wastewater and recovered for the first time in Europe was announced ahead of what major U.S. environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. predicts could be a "worldwide phosphorous crisis".
The project will see London utility Thames Water partner with Canadian firm Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies to deliver a nutrient recovery facility in Slough, set for operation in the middle of 2011.
The facility aims to remove struvite, a compound containing phosphorus and ammonia, from sewage at Slough sewage works in Berkshire and turn it into premium-grade, slow-release fertiliser.
The nutrient recovery plant is expected to produce 150 tonnes of high-value fertiliser every year and will save Thames Water £130,000 to £200,000 a year in chemical dosing - a traditional method of ridding the plant of struvite build-up.
The phosphorous will be extracted as crystalline pellets which can then be spread as fertiliser on crops, lawns, and gardens.
As part of a public/private partnership, Ostara will design, build and finance the facility and Thames Water has agreed to provide a monthly fee, over a period of 20 years, for the treatment capacity. This is said to be less than then £130,000 to £200,000 the utility currently pays each year on maintenance costs to clear the build up of struvite in pipes and valves.
Thames Water said the opening of such a facility will be timely as mineable reserves of phosphorus are running out - down to 6% in North America, 1% in Russia and 39% in China - and experts predict these non-sustainable stocks will last only for about another 30 years.
Speaking exclusively to Water & Wastewater International magazine (WWi), environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr, who is on the board of Ostara, said: "The world is about to face a worldwide phosphorous crisis and will completely run out in 30 years' time. The phosphorous produced from this process is much higher quality than the quantities that can be mined...it also dramatically reduces the carbon footprint of the mining operations where the material has to be cracked out of rocks in Africa using machinery and then shipped."
The facility is considered the first of its type in Europe and follows Slough sewage works commissioned as the first pilot phosphorous removal plant back in 1993.
Kennedy believed the Netherlands could host the second plant and following the Thames Water announcement was on his way to Amsterdam to discuss opening a similar facility.
He added: "The Balkans and the Black Sea areas [in Europe] have serious phosphorous problems where it is even destroying ecosystems. I'm very excited about taking the technology over there."
He told WWi that there was potential "all across Europe" for such systems and currently, there are three installations in North America. He said that the process was developed by scientists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who partnered with Ostara to deliver it on a commercial scale.
Lord Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, said: "Along with sun and rain, all of our fruit, vegetables and other food need phosphate and nitrogen to grow. For more than 50 years, we have mined phosphate, mainly from North Africa as we have none in the UK, but supplies are running out.
“We must learn to recycle all the phosphate in wastewater to have secure food supplies in future, and this initiative by Thames Water and Ostara is a significant step in the right direction."
Phillip Abrary, Ostara’s chief executive, said: “Ostara’s Nutrient Recovery Process integrates directly into Slough’s treatment system, processes the sludge liquids, and recovers a high-quality, environmentally-friendly fertiliser that generates revenue for the water company."
Abrary added: “Several hundred plants in Europe are potential candidates for the technology, which provides a solution to any sewage treatment works faced with high phosphate concentrations in their (sewage) sludge systems.”