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Investigation of nitrogen recovery from concentrated wastewater
Mälardalen University, School of Business, Society and Engineering, Future Energy Center. (Future Energy Center)ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3115-4902
2021 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Nitrogen recovery from wastewater treatment for fertilizers is a research topic that exists at the intersection of multiple topics important to the future of sustainable society. First, nitrogen recovery from wastewater implies a departure from the current methods of nitrogen mitigation, which involve nitrogen removal by conversion of various aqueous species to inert nitrogen gas. Secondly, by recovering nitrogen from wastewater specifically, there is the opportunity to begin a circular economy where value added products can be obtained from material that has historically been seen as a “waste”. Current wastewater treatment involves nitrogen removal through the biological transformation of aqueous nitrogen species to inert nitrogen gas. This process is energy intensive and risks the production of air pollutants such as N2O as intermediates in the biological transformation. If this nitrogen can be captured in a form that can be reused, a valuable product can be achieved with the potential reduction of both the energy required at the wastewater treatment plant as well as the carbon footprint. Finally, by recovering nitrogen in a form that can be used in agriculture as a fertilizer, additional environmental benefits can be realized by reducing reliance on Haber-Bosch based ammonia production, which is also energy intensive and contributes harmful emissions to the atmosphere.

The work described in the following licentiate aims to consider the current status of nitrogen recovery from wastewater for fertilizers as a research topic. Literature was analytically examined to compare different techniques in terms of energy requirements, cost for fertilizer production, market for final fertilizer product, and technological readiness. The most interesting findings from this review were that there seems to be a disconnect between the fertilizer product produced by nitrogen recovery techniques and the market, which will become a challenge if these techniques are implemented at a large scale. The attitude of the farmers with regards to fertilizers from waste was overall positive, with their concerns mainly focused on the performance ability and cost of the product. Additionally, many techniques such as microbial fuel cells and microbial electrolysis cells have been unable to move past the laboratory phase despite being researched for many years. This indicates there are cost and technological barriers that are preventing the further scale up and implementation of these techniques. Energy and cost analyses will be crucial to motivate investment into these processes, and these are missing for many of the techniques found around this topic.

To contribute to this field, experimental work was also included to assess the potential for ammonium adsorption from concentrated wastewater for fertilizer production. The experimental work focused on the utilization of the solid product of pyrolysis of sewage sludge (biochar) for adsorption and explored the potential enhancement of the char with various chemical treatments. The char with the best ammonium adsorption performance was found to be using a treatment of HNO3 followed by and NaOH, with an adsorption capacity of 4 mg NH4/g biochar. This char was compared with commercially activated carbon and clinoptilolite for full scale applications. It was found that even with this increased adsorption capacity, the use of chemically enhanced sewage sludge biochar for full scale applications is not realistic. The amount of raw material required for the complete recovery of ammonium from reject water at the municipal wastewater treatment plants exceeds the total amount of sewage sludge generated. Therefore it is recommended that the goal of incorporating sewage sludge biochar with wastewater treatment is to produce a solid fertilizer product loaded with ammonium (which would provide ammonium-N and phosphorus for plant growth, as well as carbon and other minerals for soil amendment) rather than having the goal be complete ammonium recovery from the wastewater stream.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Västerås: Mälardalen University , 2021. , p. 65
Series
Mälardalen University Press Licentiate Theses, ISSN 1651-9256 ; 303
Keywords [en]
nitrogen, ammonium, recovery, circular economy, wastewater
National Category
Environmental Engineering
Research subject
Energy- and Environmental Engineering
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-53295ISBN: 978-91-7485-496-1 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:mdh-53295DiVA, id: diva2:1524794
Presentation
2021-03-08, R1-343 and Zoom, Mälardalens högskola, Västerås, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2021-02-03 Created: 2021-02-02 Last updated: 2022-11-08Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. From removal to recovery: An evaluation of nitrogen recovery techniques from wastewater
Open this publication in new window or tab >>From removal to recovery: An evaluation of nitrogen recovery techniques from wastewater
2020 (English)In: Applied Energy, ISSN 0306-2619, E-ISSN 1872-9118, Vol. 263, article id 114616Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Nitrogen recovery is the next step in the improvement of the wastewater treatment process, utilizing this important nutrient for fertilizers to decrease use of energy, petrochemicals, and impact on the environment. The majority of wastewater treatment plants currently employ methods to remove nitrogen which are energy intensive and have no additional benefits besides complying with effluent concentration limits. Instead, recovering nitrogen allows simultaneous treatment of wastewater while collecting a concentrated ammonia product, creating a circular economy solution. This review acts to compile current research regarding nitrogen recovery and compare different techniques' recovery efficiencies and energy requirements. One outcome of this review is that more than one third of the techniques reviewed had little comments around the energy question, and thus more research needs to take place as these recovery systems continue to evolve towards full scale implementation. Additionally, a basic economic analysis was completed to demonstrate potential investment opportunities to implement these technologies. From this investigation, gas permeable membrane technology has the potential to recover ammonia from wastewater using little energy and may provide a small income with the sale of the product. Other techniques such as vacuum membrane distillation with acid absorption need further validation to determine the energy costs, as the amount of heat recycling has a great impact on the overall energy and economic balances. Finally, a discussion of the misalignment of products from recovery techniques and fertilizers in use today highlights the lack of communication and information sharing between the research community and the end users. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Elsevier Ltd, 2020
Keywords
Ammonia recovery, Circular economy, Energy requirements, Haber Bosch, Nitrogen recovery, Nutrient recovery, Ammonia, Distillation, Economic analysis, Effluent treatment, Effluents, Gas permeable membranes, Investments, Membrane technology, Nitrogen fertilizers, Nitrogen removal, Nutrients, Wastewater treatment, Recovery
National Category
Energy Engineering
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-47159 (URN)10.1016/j.apenergy.2020.114616 (DOI)000520402600037 ()2-s2.0-85079419020 (Scopus ID)
Note

Export Date: 27 February 2020; Review; CODEN: APEND; Correspondence Address: Thorin, E.; Mälardalen University, Högskoleplan 1, Sweden

Available from: 2020-02-27 Created: 2020-02-27 Last updated: 2021-02-02Bibliographically approved
2. Post-pyrolysis treatments of biochars from sewage sludge and A. mearnsii for ammonia (NH4-n) recovery
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Post-pyrolysis treatments of biochars from sewage sludge and A. mearnsii for ammonia (NH4-n) recovery
Show others...
2020 (English)In: Applied Energy, ISSN 0306-2619, E-ISSN 1872-9118, Vol. 271, article id UNSP 115212Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

NH4-N-loaded biochars are suitable candidates for soil amendment and fertilization. Sewage sludge-based biochar and biochar from the invasive species black wattle were used as sorbents for the adsorption of ammonia from a concentrated solution to mimic the wastewater treatment plant reject water stream. To increase ammonium recovery efficiency, two post-pyrolysis activation techniques were compared: steam activation and hydrogen peroxide treatment. It was found that the success of the treatment options was material dependent; therefore, post-pyrolysis treatments will require optimization for different applications based on feedstock. A simplified version of an adsorption process simulated in Aspen Tech predicts that NH4-N may be recovered at an energy cost lower than that of the Haber-Bosch process for black wattle biochar yields of below 19.5%. The biooil and syngas produced during pyrolysis can be used to lessen the energy requirements of the process, so that the solid portion may be utilized as an adsorbent and soil fertilizer. The energy-based sustainability of this technology warrants a more in-depth investigation for evaluation of the techno-economic feasibility for this class of loaded sorbents, and whether this method of nitrogen capture from wastewater is a suitable replacement of the costly Haber-Bosch process.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
ELSEVIER SCI LTD, 2020
Keywords
Nitrogen recovery, Biochar, Sewage sludge, Post-pyrolysis treatment, Circular economy
National Category
Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:mdh:diva-50601 (URN)10.1016/j.apenergy.2020.115212 (DOI)000540436500022 ()2-s2.0-85085352621 (Scopus ID)
Conference
11th International Conference on Applied Energy (ICAE), AUG 12-15, 2019, Vasteras, SWEDEN
Available from: 2020-09-21 Created: 2020-09-21 Last updated: 2022-11-09Bibliographically approved

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