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Perspective on the electrochemical recovery of phosphate from wastewater streams

Von Wiley-VCH zur Verfügung gestellt


The presently increasing global population demands increased food production. Consequently, phosphate – an indispensable fertilizer component – will be needed in ever greater amounts. Current levels of mining of phosphate's most important constituent element, phosphorus (P), are unsustainable, and P rock is predicted to soon be completely depleted. Because P is a non-renewable resource, techniques to recover and reuse waste phosphate are necessary. Large amounts of unused phosphate exist in both municipal and agricultural wastewater streams, as well as in sewage sludge. Approaches to recovering phosphate from these sources fall into three main categories: biological, chemical, and electrochemical. Biological phosphate recovery has seen some plant-scale use, but significant drawbacks including the complication of operation have prevented it from becoming widespread. The most common method of phosphate recovery, chemical phosphate recovery, has been applied at scale with success due to the stability and reliability of the process. However, disadvantages such as the exorbitant amounts of alkali dosing required to maintain the high pH necessary for phosphate precipitation leave room for improvement. In recent years, electrochemical phosphate recovery has gained traction because of its potential to overcome the weaknesses of traditional chemical approaches by utilizing water electrolysis to induce a high pH without the need for an added base. But before plant-scale electrochemical methods can be considered economically viable, the steep energy requirements of water electrolysis must be mitigated through the development of improved electrocatalysts or circumvented through the discovery and application of new electrochemical processes to generate hydroxyl ions needed to induce a high pH. In this review, the three broad categories of phosphate recovery techniques are discussed and an outlook on the future of electrocatalysis for phosphate recovery is presented. Particularly, the requirements for improved and Earth-abundant electrocatalysts are considered alongside a critical discussion of the possibility of a decentralized network of onsite wastewater treatment facilities powered by renewable electricity.

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