Phosphorus is one essential element of life, which can neither be produced synthetically nor substituted by any other substance. Its importance as plant nutrient is emphasized by the huge amount of mineral phosphorus annually imported into Europe to sustain good harvests. While phosphorus is a limited fossil element, its extensive recovery from “secondary deposits” is of paramount importance and follows the principles of the European Roadmap for Resource Efficiency. Municipal wastewater represents a relevant phosphorus reserve and has the potential to cover about 20% of the demand. Technology concepts have been developed to tap into this local resource. While the traditional application of sewage sludge in agriculture is facing increasing concerns about pollutants, this path needs to be further secured to protect the environment and human health. In addition, technological alternatives to recycle phosphorus are available and need yet to be deployed on to the market.
For the implementation to market, new technologies need to be proven capable and feasible. Within P-REX, novel and available technical solutions for phosphorus recovery and recycling will be demonstrated in full-scale. Based on real operational data their performance and feasibility will be systematically assessed and validated, as well as the quality of obtained recycling products. Together with the analysis of the market barriers and the market potential for novel recycling technologies and their products, strategies and recommendations will be developed for efficient and wide-spread phosphorus recovery and market penetration with regards to specific regional conditions, aiming to substantially increase the European phosphorus recycling rate from municipal wastewater.
Within the project structure, two work areas (WA1 and WA2) are dedicated to the assessment of advanced technical options for phosphorus recovery from sewage sludge ash and the aqueous phase of the sludge. A third work area (WA3) will elaborate solutions to minimize the sludge toxicity and is about to define and validate bio-test based monitoring routines to make the valorization of biosolids on arable land as safe as possible for human health and the environment. Based on the data and results from these work areas, the quality of the obtained products and their suitability as fertilizer will be assessed by pot tests, bio-tests and chemical analysis. Supported by LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), RA (Risk Assessment) and LCC (Life Cycle Cost), the technical solutions can be compared (WA4) with the traditional valorization of sludge on arable land as well, as with the application of mineral fertilizers manufactured from fossil phosphate rock.
In parallel, a fifth work area (WA5) is dedicated to the analysis of market barriers and specific regional conditions with respect to the implementation of wide-spread phosphorus recycling. Flanked by stakeholder workshops, strategies and recommendations will be developed and published. The launch of an e-market is about to support the market penetration of recycled P products. A policy brief and an integral guidance document will summarize the major outcomes and can be regarded as an important tool for decision makers in the field of the sustainable use of the essential resource phosphorus.
As one of the key results of the project, the proof of feasibility of novel technical options for phosphorus recovery and recycling from the wastewater stream will be given, enabling to identify the best suitable solution for phosphorus recovery with respect to specific regional conditions. The project will close important knowledge gaps that have been identified over the past years. It will demonstrate the possible options for a more sustainable use of phosphorus in the future and will help to improve the food security not only in Europe, but also for a growing world’s population. P-REX will provide an essential milestone for our future development into a recycling society.