Recovery and reuse of ammonium from wastewater treatment plants : an application for agriculture

Singh, Balbir, Gilkes, Robert J., & Mackinnon, Ian D.R. (2003) Recovery and reuse of ammonium from wastewater treatment plants : an application for agriculture. In Innovations in Water, Australian Water Association, Perth WA.


In wastewater treatment plants based on anaerobic digestion, supernatant and outflows from sludge dewatering systems contain significantly high amount of ammonium. Generally, these waters are returned to the head of wastewater treatment plant (WWTP), thereby increasing the total nitrogen load of the influent flow. Ammonium from these waters can be recovered and commercially utilised using novel ion-exchange materials. Mackinnon et al. have described an approach for removal and recovery of ammonium from side stream centrate returns obtained from anaerobic digester of a typical WWTP. Most of the ammonium from side streams can potentially be removed, which significantly reduces overall inlet demand at a WWTP. However, the extent of reduction achieved depends on the level of ammonium and flow-rate in the side stream.

The exchange efficiency of the ion-exchange material, MesoLite, used in the ammonium recovery process deteriorates with long-term use due to mechanical degradation and use of regenerant. To ensure that a sustainable process is utilised a range of potential applications for this “spent” MesoLite have been evaluated. The primary focus of evaluations has been use of ammonium-loaded MesoLite as a source of nitrogen and growth medium for plants.

A MesoLite fertiliser has advantage over soluble fertilisers in that N is held on an insoluble matrix and is gradually released according to exchange equilibria. Many conventional N fertilisers are water-soluble and thus, instantly release all applied N into the soil solution. Loss of nutrient commonly occurs through volatilisation and/or leaching. On average, up to half of the N delivered by a typical soluble fertiliser can be lost through these processes.

In this context, use of ammonium-loaded MesoLite as a fertiliser has been evaluated using standard greenhouse and field-based experiments for low fertility soils. Rye grass, a suitable test species for greenhouse trials, was grown in 1kg pots over a period of several weeks with regular irrigation. Nitrogen was applied at a range of rates using a chemical fertiliser as a control and using two MesoLite fertilisers. All other nutrients were applied in adequate amounts. All treatments were replicated three times. Plants were harvested after four weeks, and dry plant mass and N concentrations were determined.

At all nitrogen application rates, ammonium-loaded MesoLite produced higher plant mass than plants fertilised by the chemical fertiliser. The lower fertiliser effectiveness of the chemical fertliser is attributed to possible loss of some N through volatilisation. The MesoLite fertilisers did not show any adverse effect on availability of macro and trace nutrients, as shown by lack of deficiency symptoms, dry matter yield and plant analyses.

Nitrogen loaded on to MesoLite in the form of exchanged ammonium is readily available to plants while remaining protected from losses via leaching and volatilisation. Spent MesoLite appears to be a suitable and effective fertiliser for a wide range of soils, particularly sandy soils with poor nutrient holding capacity.

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ID Code: 58362
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: wastewater treatment, ammonium recovery, ion exchange process, agicultural application
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES (050000) > ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE AND MANAGEMENT (050200)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENGINEERING (090000) > ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING (090700)
Divisions: Current > Institutes > Institute for Future Environments
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2013 [please consult the author]
Deposited On: 07 Oct 2013 23:41
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2013 07:23

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