Struvite: Phosphorus recovery for Bio-based fertilizers

SUSFERT consortium members University of Antwerp, Groupe RoullierTimac Agro, and Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) recently published a systematic comparison of commercially produced struvite looking at the quantities, qualities and soil-maize phosphorus availability in Science Direct.  The publication analyses struvite from 30% of the 80 worldwide installations, and while current struvite production is limited, it demonstrates huge potential for growth.

Production of struvite (MgNH4PO4·6H2O) from waste streams is increasingly implemented to recover phosphorus (P), which is listed as a critical raw material in the European Union (EU). To facilitate EU-wide trade of P-containing secondary raw materials such as struvite, the EU issued a revised fertilizer regulation in 2019. A comprehensive overview of the supply of struvite and its quality is presently missing. This study aimed: i) to determine the current EU struvite production volumes, ii) to evaluate all legislated physicochemical characteristics and pathogen content of European struvite against newly set regulatory limits, and iii) to compare not-regulated struvite characteristics. It is estimated that in 2020, between 990 and 1250 ton P are recovered as struvite in the EU. Struvite from 24 European production plants, accounting for 30% of the 80 struvite installations worldwide was sampled. Three samples failed the physicochemical legal limits; one had a P content of <7% and three exceeded the organic carbon content of 3% dry weight (DW). Mineralogical analysis revealed that six samples had a struvite content of 80–90% DW, and 13 samples a content of >90% DW. All samples showed a heavy metal content below the legal limits. Microbiological analyses indicated that struvite may exceed certain legal limits. Differences in morphology and particle size distribution were observed for struvite sourced from digestate (rod shaped; transparent; 82 mass% < 1 mm), dewatering liquor (spherical; opaque; 65 mass% 1–2 mm) and effluent from upflow anaerobic sludge blanket reactor processing potato wastewater (spherical; opaque; 51 mass% < 1 mm and 34 mass% > 2 mm). A uniform soil-plant P-availability pattern of 3.5–6.5 mg P/L soil/d over a 28 days sampling period was observed. No differences for plant biomass yield were observed. In conclusion, the results highlight the suitability of most struvite to enter the EU fertilizer market.

Read the full Science Direct publication here