Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

November 12, 2013

Nanotech project captures phosphorus in wastewater

DIMONDALE (AP) — A Michigan State University researcher is testing a system that harnesses nanotechnology to attack two problems at once — an excess of phosphorus in wastewater discharge and a looming shortage of the fertilizer ingredient.

Associate professor Steven Safferman is developing a nano-filter system designed to capture phosphorus from wastewater for re-use in fertilizer.

“It’s so great to see something come to fruition that can really help the environment, as well as provide a renewable resource that was not renewable in the past,” he said in a statement.

Safferman is testing phosphorus filtration at a subdivision in Dimondale, near the East Lansing school.

“All these homes, whenever they do the dishes, flush the toilet, take a shower, that water has to go somewhere,” Safferman said.

Today, it gets piped into a treatment system and discharged into a subdivision lake. Phosphorus that remains in the water after treatment creates problems with algae growth, he said.

“They’re living with their wastewater, literally, they look out their front door and they see this wastewater,” Safferman said. “Our job is to make sure this wastewater is clean. We’re hoping that once we get the phosphorus out, they’ll have less issues with algae in their lake and the odor associated with that algae.”

He is working with a private company and expects commercial release within two years, the university said.

Phosphorus feeds algae and is a widespread problem in wastewater and storm water discharge. At the same time, phosphorus is mined, and demand for use in agriculture is expected to run up against limits in the underground supply in coming years, the university said.

“It’s exciting when we’re trying to solve an environmental problem. We’re coming up with some new ideas that look like they are going to be efficient and effective,” said Safferman, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency staffer. “If we can engineer systems to protect the environment while at the same time recovering a valuable resource, then everyone wins.”

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