Did you Know PHOS4LIFETM Technology?

18 May, 2022


TÉCNICAS REUNIDAS develops environmentally friendly technologies that contribute to environmental protection, sustainable development and circular economy.

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for life. Did you know that sewage sludge contains phosphorus and that this phosphorus can be recovered?

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for life and plays a fundamental role in ensuring food security in the world.

The increasing consumption of fertilizers by the agricultural industry to meet the food needs of the world’s growing population is pushing the global demand for phosphorus to new heights.

The amount of phosphate rock reserves and resources remaining worldwide has become a subject of speculation. It has been hypothesized that phosphorus (phosphate rock) production will “peak” in 2033-2034 and then production will inevitably decline as reserves are depleted. Thus, although phosphorus resources are relatively abundant worldwide and reserves are significant, the dire consequences for global economic development associated with a potential “phosphate peak” necessitate work on the development of new technologies for phosphate beneficiation.

Europe lacks these resources and depends entirely on their importation, which has led to the classification of phosphates as a critical raw material for the European economy.

It is also known that the primary production of phosphorus has a great environmental impact and that poor waste management and incorrect use of phosphorus-containing products have a direct impact on soil pollution and water quality.

For these and other reasons, the European Union (EU) is implementing new regulatory measures regarding the limits of impurities that phosphorus-based fertilizers can have and several EU countries are legislating to make the recycling of phosphorus from secondary sources mandatory.

The main way to address this situation is to manage phosphorus sustainably by reducing losses during its use cycle. With its recovery and reincorporation into the cycle, the need for mineral resources is reduced and the detrimental effects of phosphorus accumulation on aquatic ecosystems and soils are avoided.

Strategy and geopolitics

  • Phosphate rock is a Critical Commodity
  • Reserves are located outside the EU in a few countries.
  • High grade P ores are being depleted.

Environmental Aspects

  • Primary phosphorus production has a high environmental impact
  • 95% of P used in the EU is not reused.
  • Poor management of P wastes and products impacts soil and water quality

Regulatory frameworks

  • The EU is implementing new regulatory measures regarding fertilizer impurity limits.
  • Several EU countries are legislating to impose mandatory recycling of P

One of the most important secondary sources of phosphorus is sewage sludge, which originates from the treatment of urban wastewater in wastewater treatment plants (WWTP). 

Sludge consists of a mixture of water and solids separated from the wastewater as a result of natural or artificial processes.

Improvements in wastewater collection and treatment systems have led to an increase in annual sludge production, and it is expected that sludge production will continue to increase significantly in the European Union in the coming years. Currently, the annual production of urban sewage sludge in the European Union exceeds 10 million tons.

Phosphorus recovery from sewage sludge is being driven worldwide on two complementary fronts. On the one hand, the environmental front, in which the aim is to increase the sustainability of the water and phosphorus cycles by mitigating the negative effect that the accumulation of this element has on ecosystems. On the other hand, the macroeconomic or strategic one, in which the aim is to reduce foreign dependence on a critical raw material, such as phosphorus. 

PHOS4LIFE technology

In this context, the PHOS4LIFETM technology, developed by TÉCNICAS REUNIDAS at its José Lladó Technology Center located in San Fernando de Henares (Madrid), in collaboration with the Swiss ZAR Foundation, was born as a technology which allows to solve both the environmental problem derived from phosphorus pollution and to reduce the macroeconomic or strategic problem.

The PHOS4LIFETM technology developed by TÉCNICAS REUNIDAS is characterized by:

  • 01

    A high innovative character, as it is a technology capable of valorizing a waste that represents a serious environmental problem, such as urban sewage sludge, by obtaining a critical raw material, such as phosphorus.

  • 02

    A great positive impact on the management of the sustainability of a key element in the wellbeing of today's modern society, such as phosphorus.

  • 03

    A great technological leap that has made it possible to achieve, in a system as complex as urban waste derived from human activity, the valorization of minority elements, in this case phosphorus, with a recovery of more than 80% in the form of a high added value product: technical grade phosphoric acid.

  • 04

    A more robust, versatile and flexible technology than other technologies under development or in their early stages of industrial implementation, as it allows working with sewage sludge ash with higher levels of impurities and with greater variability in terms of phosphorus content. In addition, it is also the only technology that allows obtaining technical grade phosphoric acid (high purity acid), a product of higher added value compared to other technologies that obtain products of lower added value, such as lower quality phosphoric acid or other products for use as fertilizers.

  • 05

    A technology that respects the natural environment, contributing to the protection of the environment, sustainable development and the circular economy.

  • 06

    A patent owned by TÉCNICAS REUNIDAS.

  • 07

    Exploitation rights exclusive to TÉCNICAS REUNIDAS.

Two pioneering projects underway

An industrial plant for the treatment of 40,000 tons per year of sewage sludge ash (SSA) by the Swiss ZAR Foundation. This study has produced sufficient techno-economic information to preliminarily establish the feasibility of applying PHOS4LIFETM technology to recover phosphorus in the form of technical grade phosphoric acid and thus ensure the continuity of this project as a solution to an environmental problem. The industrial implementation will take place in 2026 at the KEBAG industrial complex in Switzerland.

The second project comes from the city of Vienna on behalf of the Stadt Wien (Waste Management Department MA48) and the company Wien Energie which operates 4 waste incinerators, 2 hazardous waste incinerators and 3 fluidized bed sewage sludge incinerators. The objective of this contract is the approval of the PHOS4LIFETM technology via preliminary engineering for the industrial implementation of the PHOS4LIFETM technology to treat 40,000 tpa of SSA as feedstock to produce technical grade phosphoric acid.

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