Global phosphorus recovery from wastewater for agricultural reuse

Dirk Jan D. Kok*, Saket Pande, Jules B. Van Lier, Angela R.C. Ortigara, Hubert Savenije, Stefan Uhlenbrook

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
96 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5781-5799
Number of pages19
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 12 Nov 2018


  • OA-Fund TU Delft


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