Practical strategies of phosphorus reclamation from sewage sludge after different thermal processing: Insights into phosphorus transformation

Water Res. 2024 May 15:255:121524. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2024.121524. Epub 2024 Mar 27.


In the context of circular economy and global shortage of phosphorus (P) fertilizer production, it is crucial to effectively recover P during the treatment and disposal of sewage sludge (SS). Although thermal treatment of SS has been widely applied, a targeted P reclamation route is not yet well established. This study has comprehensively investigated and compared the physicochemical properties of SS and solid residues (hydrochar (HC), biochar (BC), sewage sludge ash (SSA), hydrochar ash (HCA), and biochar ash (BCA)) after application of three typical thermal treatment techniques (i.e., hydrothermal carbonization (180‒240 °C), pyrolysis (400‒600 °C) and combustion (850 ℃). P speciation and transformation during thermal processes were extensively explored followed by a rational proposal of effective P reclamation routes. Specifically, thermal processing decomposed organic P and converted non-apatite P to apatite P. Orthophosphate-P was found to be the main species in all samples. Physicochemical properties of the resulting thermal-derived products were significantly affected by the thermal techniques applied, thereby determining their feasibility for different P reclamation purposes. In particular, ash is not recommended for agricultural use due to higher harmful metals content, while acid leaching can be an alternative solution to synthesize non-Fe-containing P products because of the lower co-dissolved Fe content in the leachate. HC and BC offer the option for synthesis of Fe containing products. Eventually, HC and BC demonstrate great potential for agriculture application, however, a comprehensive risk assessment should be conducted before their real-world applications.

Keywords: Nutrients reclamation; Phosphorus transformation; Sewage sludge; Thermal treatment.