Amazing Wastewater-to-Fertilizer Innovation!

Phosphorus is essential for plant growth.  It becomes a nutrient in our food, then part of our waste.  As the global demand for food rises, the demand for phosphorus rises as well.  The problem is that it’s also a non-renewable resource. The majority of the phosphorus used for agriculture is derived by mining phosphate rock.

Durham Advanced Wastewater Treatment  is a state-of-the-art facility that recovers phosphorus from household/human waste to make inorganic (ie mineral) fertilizer pellets.   This is remarkable because most wastewater treatment plants just dispose of phosphorus.  Disposal increases the demand for mined phosphorus, which will eventually run out.  In fact, current global reserves may be depleted in 50  to 100 years!

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Durham developed its nutrient recovery process after being the target of a lawsuit.   In 1988, Oregon tightened its standards for the amount of phosphorus allowed in the Tualatin River from 2000 parts per billion to 70 parts per billion.  Durham’s discharge into the Tualatin did not meet these standards, so students from Lewis & Clark Law School found millions of dollars in Clean Water Act  violations.   Durham resolved the problem, becoming the “first facility in the U.S. to recover  fertilizer from  a natural byproduct of wastewater treatment.”

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Because it’s a licensed fertilizer producer, Durham is one of the few water treatment municipalities that actually earns a profit.  The recovery technology developed by Ostara is patented, but the patent only costs $1.  Today, Durham welcomes visitors from around the world to tour the facility and implement the technology elsewhere.  Enjoy the photos from my tour!

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