Technology turns wastewater phosphorus into fertiliser

The University of British Columbia’s Dr Donald Mavinic has developed a technology to turn pipe-clogging and polluting phosphorus compounds in wastewater into environmentally friendly fertiliser.

Mavinic’s innovation turns a costly problem into a valuable product while addressing a major environmental concern. The phosphorus pollution of natural waters is one of the most significant environmental challenges facing the planet, yet phosphorus is also a dwindling resource that food crops cannot grow without.

Mavinic worked out the chemistry and engineering for the phosphorus recovery system with his research associate Frederic Koch and graduate students at the university.

He also helped spin-off the technology to Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies, a company that now markets the Pearl Nutrient Recovery Process that uses his technique to rescue phosphorus from sewage sludge, recycling the would-be pollutant into the environmentally friendly fertiliser Crystal Green.

A single Pearl reactor can produce more than 500kg of high-quality fertiliser per day, while saving wastewater treatment plants about $100,000 (£64,400) a year in clean-up costs to get mineral build-up out of pipes and equipment.

A demonstration-scale Pearl Nutrient Recovery Facility is operating in Edmonton, Alberta, and commercial-scale Pearl Nutrient Recovery Facilities are in operation at wastewater treatment facilities serving several cities near Portland, Oregon, as well as the region of Suffolk, Virginia, and, soon, York, Pennsylvania.

The technology has also been successfully piloted in several locations in Asia and Europe.

For his efforts, Mavinic is soon to receive one of Canada’s most distinguished innovation awards. Mavinic, a civil engineering professor and entrepreneur, will receive the $25,000 Dave Mitchell Award of Distinction from the Ernest C Manning Awards Foundation.