Research looks to rescue diminishing resource

28 August 2017

Professor Ole Pahl.

Professor Ole Pahl.

Global phosphorus reserves could run out within a century, which could have serious consequences for the agricultural industry.

That is the view of Professor Ole Pahl, Associate Dean of Research in the School of Engineering and Built Environment, who has embarked on a project which aims to recover secondary phosphorus from waste water.

It is an essential nutrient widely used in farming, and Scotland sees all of the phosphorus, that its agriculture relies upon, imported.

Deemed a wasted resource, much of the material ends up in sewage with little way of recovering it.

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researchers, together with ten European partner organisations, have been awarded almost £500,000 by European Commission body INTERREG NWE to contribute to a project aimed at reclaiming and recycling used phosphorus.

They will work with partners from University of Highlands and Islands and Scottish Water exploring various techniques to extract phosphorus from waste water.

They will also be responsible for quality control and analysis of the extracted material, to ensure its safety.

Professor Pahl is leading GCU’s involvement in the inter-regional project with partners from across northwest Europe and it will run until the year 2020.

He said: “The recovery of secondary phosphorus is vital. It is the second most important fertiliser for food production.

“Phosphorus is mined out of rock and hard to recover once used, with projections estimating reserves in the ground will run out in 100 years.

“The EU acknowledged this by adding phosphate rock to its list of critical raw materials in 2014.

“We are hoping the project, Phos4You, can demonstrate that phosphorus can be recycled on a large scale with the recovered material being transported over large distances.

“We hope that offering a financially beneficial and environmentally friendly solution to the diminishing stock of phosphorus will eventually see it taken up by the whole industry.”