Electrochemical nutrient removal from natural wastewater sources and its impact on water quality

László Kékedy-Nagy, Leah English, Zahra Anari, Mojtaba Abolhassani, Bruno G. Pollet, Jennie Popp, Lauren F. Greenlee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In this study, a suite of natural wastewater sources is tested to understand the effects of wastewater composition and source on electrochemically driven nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient removal. Kinetics, electrode behavior, and removal efficiency were evaluated during electrochemical precipitation, whereby a sacrificial magnesium (Mg) anode was used to drive precipitation of ammonium and phosphate. The electrochemical reactor demonstrated fast kinetics in the natural wastewater matrices, removing up to 54% of the phosphate present in natural wastewater within 1 min, with an energy input of only 0.04 kWh.m−3. After 1 min, phosphate removal followed a zero-order rate law in the 1 min - 30 min range. The zero-order rate constant (k) appears to depend upon differences in wastewater composition, where a faster rate constant is associated with higher Cl and NH4+ concentrations, lower Ca2+ concentrations, and higher organic carbon content. The sacrificial Mg anode showed the lowest corrosion resistance in the natural industrial wastewater source, with an increased corrosion rate (vcorr) of 15.8 mm.y−1 compared to 1.9–3.5 mm.y−1 in municipal wastewater sources, while the Tafel slopes (β) showed a direct correlation with the natural wastewater composition and origin. An overall improvement of water quality was observed where important water quality parameters such as total organic carbon (TOC), total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity showed a significant decrease. An economic analysis revealed costs based upon experimental Mg consumption are estimated to range from 0.19 $.m−3 to 0.30 $.m−3, but costs based upon theoretical Mg consumption range from 0.09 $.m−3 to 0.18 $.m−3. Overall, this study highlights that water chemistry parameters control nutrient recovery, while electrochemical treatment does not directly produce potable water, and that economic analysis should be based upon experimentally-determined Mg consumption data. Synopsis Statement: Magnesium-driven electrochemical precipitation of natural wastewater sources enables fast kinetics for phosphate removal at low energy input.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118001
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - Feb 15 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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