New plant technology to remove and recover nutrients from wastewater

Jan 09, 2018

New plant technology was officially unveiled at Cranfield University that will enable researchers to remove and recover nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater for use by the fertilizer and chemical industries.

The technology, based on the use of ion exchange and selective media (SMARTech3), is being unveiled as part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 SMART-Plant project.

SMARTech3 is a 10m3 demonstration scale plant that is installed at the University’s on-site sewage works, with its own dedicated pilot-plant hall.

The SMART-Plant project aims to scale-up innovative and energy-efficient solutions that will renovate existing wastewater treatment plants and enable low-carbon capture of materials that would otherwise be lost.

SMART-Plant, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, is a project with 25 partners that aims to move forward the scale-up of low-carbon footprint material recovery techniques in wastewater treatment plants. The project demonstrates technologies that result in the production of energy, chemicals and other materials such as cellulose, bioplastics, ammonium sulphate, struvite, calcium phosphate from wastewater.

Commenting on the opening of SMARTech3, Dr Ana Soares, Senior Lecturer in Biological Engineering said: “This new plant technology, at Cranfield, will enable us to demonstrate how existing wastewater treatment plants can be renovated in order to capture nitrogen and phosphorus that can then be used by other industries.”


Cranfield University is delivering SMARTECH3, an ion exchange processes for nutrient removal and recovery. This is a 10 m3/day demonstration scale plant that removes ammonia and phosphorus from secondary wastewater using modified zeolites and a hybrid anion exchange, with contact times in the order of minutes. The nutrients are then recovered from the multi-used regenerant solutions as ammonium sulphate and calcium phosphate. These recovered products can be re-used by the chemical and fertiliser industries.

About SMART-Plant

SMART-Plant will scale-up in real environment eco-innovative and energy-efficient solutions to renovate existing wastewater treatment plants and close the circular value chain by applying low-carbon techniques to recover materials that are otherwise lost. 7+2 pilot systems will be optimized for more than 2 years in real environment in 5 municipal water treatment plants, including also 2 post-processing facilities. The systems will be automated with the aim of optimizing wastewater treatment, resource recovery, energy-efficiency and reduction of greenhouse emissions. A comprehensive SMART portfolio comprising biopolymers, cellulose, fertilizers and intermediates will be recovered and processed up to the final end-products.

The integration of resource recovery assets to system-wide asset management programs will be evaluated in each site following the resource recovery paradigm for the wastewater treatment plant of the future, enabled through SMART-Plant solutions. The project will prove the feasibility of circular management of urban wastewater and environmental sustainability of the systems, to be demonstrated through Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Costing approaches to prove the global benefit of the scaled-up water solutions.

Dynamic modeling and superstructure framework for decision support will be developed and validated to identify the optimum SMART-Plant system integration options for recovered resources and technologies. Global market deployment will be achieved as right fit solution for water utilities and relevant industrial stakeholders, considering the strategic implications of the resource recovery paradigm in case of both public and private water management.

New public-private partnership models will be explored connecting the water sector to the chemical industry and its downstream segments such as the construction and agricultural sector, thus generating new opportunities for funding, as well as potential public-private competition.

About Cranfield University

Cranfield is an exclusively postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

Cranfield Water

Cranfield has over 40 years’ experience in the sector and is recognised internationally for their work in the science, engineering and management of water.

They work in all aspects of water - whether it is helping to ensure safe, clean supplies for domestic consumption, assessing agricultural needs for food production, protecting and enhancing natural habitats or improving process engineering for manufacturing and industry. They have strategic partnerships with the Department for the Environment, Yorkshire Water, Severn Trent Water and Anglian Water.


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