Nutrient Recovery From Wastewater

One of the major concerns regarding municipal wastewater treatment plant discharge is the rising concentration of nutrient compounds, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are the primary causes of cultural eutrophication (i.e., nutrient enrichment due to human activities) in surface waters. The most recognizable manifestations of this eutrophication are algal blooms that occur during the summer. Chronic symptoms of over-enrichment include low dissolved oxygen, fish kills, murky water, and depletion of desirable flora and fauna.

Wastewater treatment plants that employ conventional biological treatment processes designed to meet secondary treatment effluent standards typically do not remove total nitrogen (TN) or total phosphorus (TP) to the extent needed to protect receiving waters.

However, wastewater treatment facilities are increasingly being required to address this issue by implementing treatment processes that reduce effluent nutrient concentrations to levels that regulators deem sufficient to protect the environment. Implementation usually involves major process modifications to a plant, such as: making a portion of the aeration basin anaerobic and/or anoxic, which reduces the aerobic volume and limits nitrification capacity. Clarifier solids loading is usually the factor that limits the concentration of biomass available for nitrification, so common practice is to increase bioreactor volume in order to increase treatment capacity. This can be very expensive and sometimes impossible if space is limited.