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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Drying fresh human urine in magnesium-doped alkaline substrates: Capture of free ammonia, inhibition of enzymatic urea hydrolysis & minimisation of chemical urea hydrolysis

Vasiljev, Anastasija; Simha, Prithvi; Demisse, Natnael; Karlsson, Caroline; Randall, Dyllon G.; Vinneras, Bjorn

Abstract

Recycling urine can reduce the flux of reactive nitrogen in the environment. This paper presents a novel approach to recover all N (Ntot) from urine, including ammonia (TAN; about 5% of Ntot), which is usually volatilised when alkalised urine is dehydrated. As analytical methods for measuring N have a standard deviation of at least 5%, real fresh urine was fortified with ammonia (urineN) or ammonia and phosphate (urineNP) so that TAN comprised 10% of Ntot. The urine was then added to different magnesium-based alkaline substrates (MgO, Mg(OH)2, MgCl2 + Mg(OH)2) and dried at 38 C. Chemical speciation modelling suggested that, irrespective of the substrate, >98% of Ntot in urineNP was recovered and 86% of TAN was precipitated as struvite. Experimental results showed that < 90% of Ntot was recovered when urineNP was dried in MgO and Mg(OH)2, suggesting that no TAN was captured. However, all phosphorus and potassium and 93% (+/- 5%) of Ntot and 30% of TAN were recovered when urineNP was dried in MgCl2 + Mg(OH)2, as the [Mg]:[NH4]:[PO4] molar ratio of 1.69:1.14:1.0 in urine favoured formation of struvite. Overall, this study demonstrated that all ammonia excreted in real fresh urine (unfortified, TAN < 5% Ntot) can be captured if urine is dried in substrates containing 3.7 g MgCl2.6H2O L-1 or 2.2 g MgSO4 L-1, but no calcium. Ammonia can also be captured if fresh urine is saturated with MgO or Mg(OH)2 with high reactivity (<60 s citric acid test). If the drying substrate has pH > 10 throughout the treatment, urease enzyme-catalysed degradation of urea to ammonia is prevented, resulting in complete recovery of all nutrients. The end-product is a solid fertiliser containing 10-11% nitrogen, 1-2% phosphorus and 2-3% potassium.

Keywords

Alkaline Dehydration; Ammonia; Fertiliser; Resource recovery; Source separating Sanitation; Wastewater treatment

Published in

Chemical Engineering Journal
2022, Volume: 428, article number: 131026
Publisher: ELSEVIER SCIENCE SA