The behaviour of pharmaceuticals and heavy metals during struvite precipitation in urine

Mariska Ronteltap, Max Maurer*, Willi Gujer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

155 Citations (Scopus)


Separating urine from wastewater at the source reduces the costs of extensive wastewater treatment. Recovering the nutrients from urine and reusing them for agricultural purposes adds resource saving to the benefits. Phosphate can be recovered in the form of struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate). In this paper, the behaviour of pharmaceuticals and heavy metals during the precipitation of struvite in urine is studied. When precipitating struvite in urine spiked with hormones and non-ionic, acidic and basic pharmaceuticals, the hormones and pharmaceuticals remain in solution for more than 98%. For heavy metals, initial experiments were performed to study metal solubility in urine. Solubility is shown to be affected by the chemical conditions of stored and therefore hydrolysed urine. Thermodynamic modelling reveals low or very low equilibrium solute concentrations for cadmium (Cd), cobalt (Co), chromium (Cr), copper (Cu), nickel (Ni) and lead (Pb). Experiments confirmed Cd, Cu and Pb carbonate and hydroxide precipitation upon metal addition in stored urine with a reaction half-life of ca. 7 days. For all metals considered, the maximum specific metal concentrations per gram phosphate or nitrogen showed to be typically several orders of magnitudes lower in urine than in commercially available fertilizers and manure. Heavy metals in struvite precipitated from normal stored urine could not be detected. Phosphate recovery from urine over struvite precipitation is shown to render a product free from most organic micropollutants and containing only a fraction of the already low amounts of heavy metals in urine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1859-1868
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - May 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Heavy metals
  • Nutrient recovery
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Struvite
  • Urine


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