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  • by Trevor Loveday

Northumbrian Water claims world first for ammonia collection plant

Northumbrian Water has reported its commissioning of what it claims to be the “first time in the world” use of a heat-based method for recovering ammonia – an environmentally damaging chemical chemical – from waste water.

The water company, in partnership with the producer of the ammonia stripping and recovery system, The Organics Group, is operating a trial plant at its Howdon Sewage Treatment Works where Northumbrian said it is recovering 95% of the ammonia available. Ammonia recovered in this way could be used to produce fertilisers, pharmaceuticals and hydrogen for use in power generation. The proposal to develop this thermal ammonia recovery process won £225,000 funding bid from Ofwat in 2021.

Ammonia is present in wastewater through the natural breakdown of proteins in sewage. It is conventionally removed using bacterial methods that break ammonia down to produce harmless nitrogen. But a bi-product form that method is the highly potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. The thermal method exploits the fact that ammonia dissolved in water is a gas at high alkalinity. Heating alkaline wastewater drives off ammonia gas for collection.

Managing director of the Organics Group, Dr Robert Eden, said: “This project builds constructively on 25 years of extensive experience that Organics has with ammonia recovery systems. The technology is designed to provide water companies with a cost-effective alternative to conventional denitrification systems, and will generate opportunities, not only for ammonia-based products but also for enhanced decarbonisation of the global water sector.”

Similar deployment of the thermal stripping process is “widely deployed” in Hong Kong, according to The Organics Group, and has been operating for 25 years.

Northumbrian Water is leading the project, in partnership with Organics Group, Anglian Water, Cranfield University, Warwick University, and the consulting engineer WSP.


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