December 2012, Vol. 24, No.12

Research Notes

Removing and recovering phosphorus from wastewater with nanoparticles

Iron nanoparticles may provide the key to removing dissolved phosphorus from wastewater, according to Michigan State University (MSU; East Lansing) researcher Steve Safferman. Working as part of a team, the associate professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering has created media enhanced with the nanoparticles to remove large amounts of phosphorus from water.

The nanomedia absorb dissolved phosphorus and transform it into a solid that can be easily and efficiently removed, the news release says. In addition, Safferman and colleagues at MetaMateria Technologies (Columbus, Ohio) are working to create a cost-effective solution for recovering phosphorus that can be reused for fertilizer products, the news release says.

“Analyses show that the supply of phosphorus may become limited within the next 25 to 50 years,” said J. Richard Schorr, MetaMateria CEO, in the news release. “This is an economical way to harvest and recycle phosphorus.”

During the past 10 years, Safferman has worked with the company to develop and test the media. The research, funded in part by a U.S. National Science Foundation Small Business Innovative Research grant, indicates that this method is more cost-effective than processing phosphate rock, the news release says. The team is developing this system and plans to make it available commercially within 2 years, the news release says. Safferman’s research also is supported by MSU AgBioResearch.


Investigating barriers and opportunities for energy recovery at wastewater treatment facilities

Wastewater treatment facilities are entering a new generation, recognizing the importance of energy. Both reducing and producing energy during treatment have become goals for many facilities, and the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF; Alexandria, Va.) is providing assistance through research.

In July, WERF research identified barriers to using biogas to generate electricity. The research found that even though an increasing number of facilities treat solids and produce biogas, or methane, less than 10% have installed the equipment needed to generate electrical or thermal energy using the gas, according to a WERF news release.

The research found that barriers primarily are economic and not based on technological feasibility, the news release says. Decision-makers perceive that it takes too long to get return on investment for installing equipment needed to transform gas into energy and that limited capital resources are instead needed to meet other, higher-priority demands, the news release says.

The research report, Barriers to Biogas Use for Renewable Energy, explains how such policies as air permitting and energy incentives also affect the use of biogas as a heat- and energy-recovery resource, the news release says.

To further explore energy balance, reduction, recovery, and production at facilities, WERF is working on a new research project titled “Energy Balance and Reduction Opportunities, Case Studies of Energy-Neutral Wastewater Facilities and Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Research Planning Support” (ENER1C12). The 18-month study will be a companion to the biogas research and provide financial methods for evaluating the combined heat and power business case for investment, the news release says.

According to a Black & Veatch (Overland Park, Kan.) news release on the current project, researchers will identify ways for utilities to reduce demand, increase energy efficiency, and recover and produce energy onsite by developing baseline energy flows for common wastewater treatment processes.

The research, cosponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, will document successes and obstacles from energy-neutral or near-net-neutral facilities. WERF has contracted Black & Veatch, in partnership with AECOM (Los Angeles), the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association (Tamworth, N.H.), and Hemenway Inc. (Herndon, Va.), to lead the project, the Black & Veatch news release says.


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