A newly opened facility is letting EPCOR clean up the North Saskatchewan River and make money doing it.
On Wednesday, the company officially opened Canada’s largest wastewater nutrient recovery facility.
Every day the reactor takes in 3 million liters of wastewater and extracts the phosphorus, turning it into one tonne of fertilizer pellets.
“We think it’s a win-win-win,” EPCOR senior vice-president Guy Bridgeman said. “It doesn’t go into the North Saskatchewan River. It doesn’t cause trouble for aquatic life downstream.”
At the same time, EPCOR can sell fertilizer and farmers have a new product to purchase.
Flushing human waste contributes to elevated levels of phosphorus in water bodies. The nutrient is necessary for plants to grow but too much of it reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. Different forms of algae then bloom and some native species of aquatic life can suffer.
EPCOR’s new reactor removes one third of the phosphorus from Edmonton’s waste water.
Treated water with elevated phosphorus levels is pumped into the reactor. Magnesium is added to the process and the water is recirculated through the facility. Over time, the phosphorus reacts with the magnesium, eventually creating solid pellets.
Those pellets are later extracted, dried, packaged and sold as Crystal Green Fertilizer. The treated water then returns to the typical waste water system.
The process also saves EPCOR money. Phosphorus builds up in pipes. Over a few years, that buildup can reduce a pipe’s diameter by half. EPCOR then has to clean the dirty pipes with acid to open them up again. The nutrient recovery process allows the company to clean pipes less frequently.
The technology that allows EPCOR to turn water into fertilizer has been around for a little more than a decade. Even though this facility is new to the city, Edmonton has been on the leading edge of this technology.
Ahren Britton helped develop the process with Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies. The original idea came during his time at the University of British Columbia. In 2007, he and his team signed a deal with the City of Edmonton to build a small reactor to prove the technology works. It did.
Since then, Ostara has sold 15 larger plants to cities all over the world. Edmonton’s is now the largest in Canada.
Britton says he’s proud to see his work making a difference.
“To be able to come here and see a facility producing 1,000 tonnes a year of product feels really good. It’s demonstrating for the world what can be done.”
As EPCOR and Ostara ramp up this recovery technology, Britton says he’s already looking at what can be done next.
He wants “to grow into areas like animal waste, manure treatment and certain industrial waste waters that are high in phosphates.”
This kind of work represents a sort of shift in how people see wastewater. EPCOR too is looking for new opportunities.
“People think of the wastewater stream as something they flush and it goes away,” Bridgeman said.
“But there’s people out trying really hard to look at uses of that. Can we take the energy out of that? We’re actively looking to see if we can take some of the bio-gas that’s associated with waste water treatment, clean it up and sell it as renewable natural gas.”
The new nutrient recovery facility cost $18 million to build. EPCOR says fertilizer profits and the reduced maintenance costs from cleaner water allow the company to largely recover those costs.
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