Closing the cycle: Phosphorus removal and recovery from diluted effluents using acid resistive membranes

O. Nir, R. Sengpiel, M. Wessling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


New regulations in many developed countries call for significant reduction in phosphorus concentration for effluents released to the environment. At the same time, recovery of phosphorus – a non-renewable resource used mainly as fertilizer – from anthropogenic waste is extensively studied and bolstered as a crucial component in maintaining future food security. Thus far, studies on phosphorus recovery mainly focused on concentrated streams; although diluted effluents such as treated wastewater often contain a significant portion of the phosphorus mass. Here we propose a new approach for the simultaneous removal and recovery of phosphorus from diluted effluents using a membrane characterized by high phosphate rejection and acid resistance. High P rejection allows for the concentration of phosphorus in the retentate until recoverable calcium-phosphate precipitants are formed, while acid resistance enables a simple and effective chemical cleaning of the membrane. Factors affecting the removal and recovery of phosphorus during filtration are studied here experimentally and through thermochemical modeling. CaCO3 precipitation in the retentate resulted in severe scaling, whereas calcium-phosphate precipitated mostly in the bulk, resulting in colloidal fouling which was manageable by maintaining sub-critical permeate flux. Selective Ca-P precipitation is feasible via pH adjustments, requiring very little acid addition as shown through thermochemical modeling. Calcium-phosphate deposits were easily removed from the feed channel using acid-cleaning, and the permeate flux was completely restored. Furthermore, phosphorus removal and recovery by nanofiltration was shown to require less operating expenses compared to a more conventional approach comprising P removal by ferric chloride addition and its subsequent recovery from incinerated sludge. Our results therefore demonstrate the potential of this new approach as a step forward towards closing the anthropogenic phosphorus cycle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)640-648
Number of pages9
JournalChemical Engineering Journal
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2018


  • Nanofiltration
  • Nutrients recovery
  • Phosphate
  • Secondary effluent
  • Tertiary treatment
  • Wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Chemical Engineering (all)
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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