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Queen's University Belfast

Phosphorus from wastewater

Phosphorus from wastewater: Novel technologies for advanced treatment and reuse’ is a three year project funded under the Republic of Ireland Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Research Programme 2014-2020.

 The project will investigate phosphorus (P) sustainability in Ireland and develop innovative technologies to recover P from wastewaters.

The project is led by Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and NUI Galway. Dr. John W. McGrath (Senior Lecturer in Microbiology at QUB) and Prof. Vincent O’Flahery (Head of School of Natural Sciences and Research Group Leader of the Microbial Ecology Laboratory at NUI Galway) are co-principal investigators on the EPA funded grant. Co-applicants at QUB are Dr. John P. Quinn and Dr Panagiotis Manesiotis.

Project collaborators are P-REX, European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform, Arizona State University and University of Minnesota.

The project will review and address the following two contrasting issues of P sustainability:

  • Maintenance of P supply in the light of dwindling natural reserves
  • Reduction of P pollution to prevent the eutrophication of freshwaters through excessive P transfer to receiving water bodies

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The project will be delivered via the following specific work packages:

Work Package One:
This work package will be led by QUB and will carry out a comprehensive review of current state-of-the art for P removal and recovery from wastewater. It will form an inventory of current P-recovery and recycling technologies. Evaluate which are the best available technologies for P recovery from wastewater and their feasibility in Ireland. Determine the sinks and sources of P in Ireland.

Work Package Two:
This work package will be led by NUI Galway and will seek to demonstrate a simple, unique and novel treatment method for P attenuation during Anaerobic Digestion (AD) wastewater treatment. It will also optimise unit design for treatment efficiency of both municipal and industrial wastewaters.

Work Package Three:
This work package will be led by QUB and will seek to demonstrate two novel approaches for P removal and recovery developed by the QUB team. The first of these is a biological process which induces environmental microorganisms to accumulate phosphate intracellularly as the biopolymer polyphosphate. The second approach uses a new P binding polymer – developed at Queen’s - which has been synthesised from a natural material. This polymer currently removes in excess of 100mg of phosphate per gram of polymer: the bound phosphorus can be released and the polymer reused.

Work Package Four:
The final work package, led by NUI Galway, will demonstrate 2-3 commercially available P recovery processes for use in Irish wastewater treatment and assess the effectiveness of these technologies for recovering P from microbial biomass. Those technologies developed by QUB and NUI-Galway will also be trialled.


The overall aim of this EPA funded project is to investigate phosphorus (P) sustainability within the wastewater sector in Ireland and develop innovative technologies to recover P from wastewaters.

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Contact details

Queen’s University Belfast
School of Biological Sciences
Medical Biology Centre
97 Lisburn Road
Belfast BT9 7BL
Northern Ireland

Tel: 028 9097 2602