Experimental and thermodynamic studies of phosphate behavior during the hydrothermal carbonization of sewage sludge

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Nov 20;692:147-156. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.07.217. Epub 2019 Jul 16.


Recovered phosphate from sewage sludge is becoming a key product in the fertilizer market. This study investigates the fate of phosphate during the hydrothermal carbonization of digested sewage sludge to support the development of an economic and sustainable solution for dealing with sewage sludge for phosphate recovery. The solid products from the hydrothermal carbonization of digested sewage sludge in a batch reactor (180, 220, and 260 °C; 1, 2, and 4 h; digested sewage sludge-to-water ratios of 0.2 and 0.1 w/w) were analyzed using a sequential chemical extraction procedure to understand and predict the formation of phosphate species and the related extraction behavior of phosphate. The obtained results were compared with the thermochemical equilibrium composition of hydrothermal carbonization products, calculated using the software FactSage 7.2. The majority of phosphate was retained as Al, Ca, and Fe salts in hydrochar. The decomposition of organic phosphates was observed by processing at lower temperatures. Hydrothermal carbonization at temperatures higher than 180 °C resulted in the transformation of the Al-bound phosphate into Ca-bound phosphate. Hydroxyapatite (Ca5(PO4)3(OH)) and Fe7(PO4)6 were calculated as stable phosphate-containing minerals at equilibrium. This study suggests that kinetic constraints inhibit the formation of these minerals in the batch reactor and presents a mechanism of phosphate transformation using the obtained data. The results allow for targeted optimization of phosphate recovery strategy.

Keywords: Extraction; Hydrothermal carbonization; Phosphate; Sewage sludge; Thermochemical equilibrium.

MeSH terms

  • Incineration*
  • Phosphates / chemistry*
  • Sewage / chemistry*
  • Thermodynamics
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid


  • Phosphates
  • Sewage