Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2019PA224B

Phosphorus and ammonia removal and recovery from wastewater effluents

Institute: Pennsylvania
Year Established: 2019 Start Date: 2019-05-31 End Date: 2020-05-30
Total Federal Funds: $26,510 Total Non-Federal Funds: $53,020

Principal Investigators: Acner Ronen

Abstract: Secondary biological wastewater treatment (i.e., activated sludge) is commonly used in Philadelphia’s wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). As tertiary treatment (biological or physical) is not currently applied, the treated effluent contains remaining phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) in the form of ammonium and/or nitrate with concentrations in the several to tens ppm range. Excess P and N lead to severe environmental impact such as eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems, therefore, a cost-effective post-treatment process is required to remove N and P from the effluent. Meanwhile, N and P and macronutrients used in agriculture fertilizers with an increasing demand worldwide due to the increase in food demand and population growth. The goal of the proposed research is to develop and optimize an efficient proof-ofconcept process for P and N removal and recovery from WWTPs effluent, simultaneously producing fertilizer and high-quality water which can be further used for other applications (i.e., irrigation). The suggested process uses low-voltage, low energy, charged electrically-conducting membranes to recover and separate Struvite, an eco-friendly fertilizer from the WWTPs effluents. The membranes used have low-pressure requirement and high flux, therefore, they are able to treat large volumes of WWTP effluent. Similar membranes have been previously scaled up and used in a pilot system to prevent fouling of high strength wastewater. The issue of excess N and P in wastewater effluents is not specific to Pennsylvania or Philadelphia and has severe impact on most states which release treated wastewater back into watersheds such as the Delaware, Mississippi, etc. Therefore, we are addressing the concentrations released from a local WWTP and the suggested treatment approach as a model which can be replicated in other states according to their needs. We will test synthetic effluents containing ions and compounds at concentrations commonly found in WWTPs effluents, as well as real effluents from Philadelphia’s WWTP, to evaluate the recovery of macro-nutrients and production of water with low organic loading, no bacteria contamination and reduced N and P concentrations. The proposed research addresses the challenge of reusing water sources, otherwise considered as a waste/hazard, to produce resources in the form of a recovered fertilizer and water with low nutrients concentration fit for irrigation. We focus on developing a solution for water management that links water, energy, and environmental issues.