Comparative Life Cycle Assessment of treatment-recovery paths (D9.2)
The recovery of phosphorus (P) from sewage sludge, sludge liquor, or ash from monoincineration can be realized with different processes which have been developed, tested or already realized in full-scale in recent years. However, these pathways and processes differ in their amount of P that can be recovered in relation to the total P content in sludge, in the quality of the recovered P product, and in their efforts in energy, chemicals, fuels, and infrastructure required for P recovery. This study analyses selected processes for P recovery from sludge, liquor, or ash in their potential environmental impacts, following the method of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA, ISO 14040/44). Based on available process data from technology providers and end users, these processes are implemented in a hypothetical reference system for sludge digestion, dewatering and disposal in mono-incineration, including potential side-effects on mainstream wastewater treatment with the return load from sludge dewatering. Recovered products (e.g. P or N fertilizer, electricity, district heating) are accounted as credits for substituting equivalent industrial products. Depending on the maturity of the investigated process, collected process data of process efficiency, product quality, and energy and material demand originates from full-scale plants, pilot trials, or prospective modeling (status in 2014). This data is validated with the technology providers, transferred to the reference system and evaluated with a set of environmental indicators for energy demand, global warming, acidification, abiotic resource depletion, eutrophication, and human and ecotoxicity. Results show that pathways and processes for P recovery differ heavily in their amount of recovered P, but also in energy and related environmental impacts (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions). As direct struvite precipitation in sludge or liquor relies on the dissolved amount of P in digested sludge, these processes are only applicable in wastewater treatment plants with biological P removal. Here, they can recover 4-18% of total P in sludge with a relatively low effort in energy and chemicals, reducing return load to the mainstream process and eventually improving sludge dewaterability in case of direct precipitation in sludge. Acidic leaching of P from digested sludge can yield up to 48% of P for recovery, but requires a significant amount of chemicals for control of pH (leaching and precipitation) and for minimizing heavy metal transfer into the product. The quality of products from sludge and liquor is good with low content on heavy metals, leading to a low potential toxicity for humans and ecosystems. Leaching of monoincineration ash with sulphuric acid yields 70% P with moderate chemical demand, but the leached ash and co-precipitated materials have to be disposed, and the product contains some heavy metals. Complete digestion of ash in phosphoric acid and multi-stage cleaning with ion exchangers yields high recovery of 97% P in a high-quality product (H3PO4) and several coproducts, having an overall low environmental impact. Thermo-chemical treatment of ash can recover up to 98% P with moderate energy input in case of integration into an existing monoincineration facility, but the product still contains high amounts of selected heavy metals (Cu, Zn). Metallurgic treatment of dried sludge or ash can also recover up to 81% of P, but the process has still to be tested in continuous pilot trials to validate product quality, energy demand, and energy recovery options. Sensitivity analysis shows that other pathways of sludge disposal (e.g. co-incineration combined with upstream P extraction, direct application in agriculture) may also be reasonable from an environmental point of view depending on local boundary conditions and political targets. In general, the use of life-cycle based tools is strongly recommended to evaluate and select suitable strategies for regional or national concepts of P recovery from sewage sludge.