P from Poo. Sewage treatment plant turns human excrement into high-quality fertiliser

6 November 2013


Recovering P from Poo!  Good news for environmental protection!

Recovering P from Poo! Good news for environmental protection! (Photo: Mark Berry)

Sky News this morning carried a very welcome insert – news of the first wastewater treatment plant in Europe to recover phosphorus from sewage – a long overdue event but a major step forward nonetheless!

Just a few yards from the choked M4 motorway, beyond the massive settling tanks and a steaming, 500-tonne mountain of black sewage sludge at Slough treatment works, a modern alchemy is taking place that could potentially keep the world in food for a few more years.

The plant is taking the tiny quantities of phosphorus [P] contained in the poo of the Berkshire town’s 140,000 people and turning it into high-quality fertiliser fit to grow organic garden vegetables.

“We reckon using this technology Britain could save 20% of the 138,000 tonnes of phosphorus fertiliser that it imports a year,” says Piers Clark, Thames Water’s commercial director. “Phosphorus is a fast-depleting, non-renewable resource which we will run out of. Without it, all life on the planet will take a nosedive.”

The beneficiation of wastewater will become de rigour in the not-too-distant future. It is in the interests of offsetting treatment costs (read ‘rates and taxes’) and environmental pollution (‘our future’) that such initiatives become commonplace. ¬†Wastewater treatment engineers must take on board the fact that sewage effluents are causing massive damage to water resources – an understanding that is far from commonplace right now.

Well done Slough!  Huge kudos!

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