Phosphorus mining causes major environmental problems. But there is now green technology available to recover phosphorus from the ash from incinerated sludge, and it is to be used in new facilities planned in Germany, Denmark and Sweden. COWI has been commissioned by EasyMining to design the plants.
There are big environmental problems with the use of phosphorus dug out of the ground, as that type contains heavy metals, which spread into the soil and cause eutrophication of the sea.
However, EasyMining has developed a green technology, Ash2phos, which recovers phosphorus from the ash from incinerated sludge.
“The process for recovering phosphorus has been developed over a long period, and our partnership with COWI means that, with their help, we can now exploit our invention on a large scale,” says Jan Svärd, CEO of EasyMining.
Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all forms of life as all living organisms require daily phosphorus intake to produce energy. It cannot be replaced and there is no synthetic substitute.
Humanity’s dependence began in the mid-19th century, after farmers noticed spreading phosphorus-rich guano (bird excrement) on their fields led to vast improvements in crop yields. Soon after, mines opened up to extract phosphate ore – rocks which contain the useful mineral.
This triggered the current use of mineral fertilisers and, without this industrial breakthrough, studies show that humanity could only produce half the food that it does today.
“We are very dependent on phosphorus for our food production. But the Earth’s phosphorus resources are finite, and the need to recover phosphorus is growing all the time,” says Anna Berggren, who is Head of Bioenergy at COWI.
With the capacity to supply 25 per cent of Sweden’s demand for phosphorus, a Swedish plant will help to reduce the need for phosphorus mining and so ease the environmental impact. The initiative represents a major step towards sustainable food production.
COWI and EasyMining, a subsidiary of Ragn-Sells, have been working closely together for two years in the development phase of the new recovery technique. The partnership is continuing into the autumn, with COWI now designing and planning the first production facilities, which will recover phosphorus more efficiently than ever before.
“Being involved in developing this together with EasyMining while also tackling environmental problems makes this project incredibly exciting,” says Anna Berggren.
The first new production facility for recovering phosphorus is scheduled to go into operation in 2020.