Phosphorus is a nutrient necessary for the development of crops and is thus commonly applied as fertilizer to sustain agricultural production. It occurs naturally, in indefinite quantities of uncertain quality in phosphate rock formations, but also accumulates in urban and livestock wastewater wherefrom it is often lost as a pollutant. Recovering phosphorus from wastewater, however, is feasible through struvite crystallization technologies and has the potential to reduce phosphorus pollution of the environment as well as lower the agricultural demand for artificial P fertilizers. In this study, we developed a model to assess the global potential of P fertilizer recovery from wastewater and to visualize its trade at sub-national resolution. Results show that humans discharge a maximum of 3.7 Mt P into wastewater, thereby potentially satisfying 20 % of the global fertilizer demand. Provided 2015 market dynamics, however, the model determines that only 4 % of this discharge is technologically and economically recoverable in a market that offers cheap rock phosphate products also. The results of this study demonstrate that in the current economic context, phosphorus recovery from wastewater offers only a small contribution to resolving global phosphorus issues. Nevertheless, this recovery offers many wastewater treatment facilities the opportunity to contribute to creating sustainable communities and protecting the environment locally, while reducing their own operational costs.
- OA-Fund TU Delft