Phosphorus is one essential element of life, which can neither be produced synthetically nor substituted by any other substance. Its importance as plant nutrient is emphasized by the huge amount of 975 000 tons of mineral phosphorus annually imported into Europe to sustain good harvests. While phosphorus is a limited fossil element, its extensive recovery from “secondary deposits” is of paramount importance and follows the principles of the European Roadmap for Resource Efficiency. Municipal wastewater represents a relevant phosphorus reserve and has the potential to cover about 20% of the demand. Technology concepts have been developed in recent European projects to tap into this local resource. While the traditional application of sewage sludge in agriculture is increasingly refused by stakeholders, this path has to be further secured to protect the environment and human health. In addition, technological alternatives to recycle phosphorus are available and need yet to be deployed on to the market.
For the implementation to market, new technologies need to be proven capable and feasible. Within P-REX, novel and available technical solutions for phosphorus recovery and recycling will be demonstrated in full-scale. Their performance and feasibility will be systematically assessed and validated, as well as the quality of obtained recycling products. Together with the analysis of the market barriers and the market potential for novel recycling technologies and their products, strategies and recommendations will be developed for efficient and wide-spread phosphorus recovery and market penetration with regards to specific regional conditions, aiming to increase the European phosphorus recycling rate from municipal wastewater up to 80%.
The P-REX project builds on the outputs of previous European research projects and will perform the first holistic full-scale evaluation of technical phosphorus recovery techniques using municipal sludge or ashes in comparison with phosphorus recycling by land application of sewage sludge. The technical, operational and economic data as well as comprehensive ecotoxicological and plant-availability assessments will provide the basis of comprehensive life cycle and life cost assessments of phosphorus recovery processes. Complementing a market analysis, a guidance document for policy makers and end users will show the best phosphorus recovery options depending on regional conditions and will be illustrated by selected case studies. Within the project structure, the first two work areas are dedicated to the assessment of technical options for phosphorus recovery from sewage sludge ash and the aqueous phase of the sludge. The third work area will elaborate solutions to minimize the sludge toxicity and is about to define and validate bio-test based monitoring routines to make the valorization of biosolids on arable land as safe as possible for human health and the environment. Based on the data and results from these work areas, the quality of the obtained products and their suitability as fertilizer will be assessed by pot tests, bio-tests and chemical analysis. Supported by LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) and LCC (Life Cycle Cost), the technical solutions can be compared with the traditional valorization of sludge on arable land as well, as with the application of mineral fertilizers manufactured from fossil phosphate rock. In parallel, work area 5 is dedicated to the analysis of market barriers and specific regional conditions with respect to the implementation of wide-spread phosphorus recycling. Flanked by stakeholder workshops, strategies and recommendations will be developed and published. The launch of an e-market is about to support the market penetration of recycled P products. A policy brief and an integral guidance document will summarize the major outcomes and can be regarded as an important tool for decision makers in the field of the sustainable use of the essential but limited resource phosphorus.
As one of the key results of the project, the proof of feasibility of novel technical options for phosphorus recovery and recycling from the wastewater stream will be given. Based on solid data derived from full-scale facilities, the first real life comparison of various processes and their products can be managed, enabling to identify the best solution for phosphorus recovery with respect to specific regional conditions. The project will close important knowledge gaps that have been identified over the past years. It will demonstrate the possible options for the sustainable use of phosphorus in the future and will help to improve the food security not only in Europe, but also for a growing world’s population. The results of the project will be extensively disseminated in international workshops and regional events in order to facilitate local implementations. P-REX will provide an essential milestone for our future development into a recycling society.