Nutrient Recovery

Linking nutrient and energy recovery to get all of the value out of biomass

The carbon in biomass streams contains a large amount of renewable energy that can be recovered by methanogenesis or microbial electrochemical cells.  They also contain nutrients – particularly P and N – that can be recovered by processes that link naturally to the microbial energy-recovery methods.  As illustrated in the flow chart below, oxidizing the C for energy recovery releases the N and P, making them available for capture into high-value fertilizer products.  This approach, which generated multiple high-value outputs, means that the treatment of organic wastes becomes a positive force for economic and environmental sustainability of the entire agricultural enterprise.

Working in concert with the laboratory of Professor Paul Westerhoff, Swette Center researchers are investigating how best to link microbial processes for energy recovery with advanced methods for P and N recovery.  In particular, the Center’s methanogenesis and MXC teams provide anaerobic liquors to the Westerhoff team, which studies the fundamental mechanisms and practical optimization of advanced ion-exchange processes that recover the P and N in concentrated forms that are most useful in agriculture.  

Distribution of P in cyanobacteria biomass

Our strategy for linking energy recovery and phosphorus recovery from high-strength biomass streams, such as animal wastes and microalgae