Evaluation of hydrothermal carbonization in urban mining for the recovery of phosphorus from the organic fraction of municipal solid waste

Borja Oliver-Tomas, Martin Hitzl, Mikołaj Owsianiak, Michael Renz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The organic fraction of municipal solid waste was identified as an alternative phosphorus resource: hydrothermal carbonization provided phosphorus-rich hydrochar. Two alternative valorization pathways can be considered for the latter: the use as a fertilizer or as solid fuel after phosphorus extraction. By means of life cycle assessment (LCA) the environmental impact of extracting phosphorus and using the hydrochar as solid fuel was evaluated. Therefore, in a first step, phosphorus extraction with nitric acid, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid was experimentally investigated on laboratory scale. Nitric acid proved to be the most suitable because it offered high extraction efficiency and improved solid fuel properties such as lower ash content and lower levels of chlorine and sulfur. In contrast, hydrochloric acid increased the chlorine content and sulfuric acid only replaced phosphate by sulfate, but did not reduce the ash content of hydrochar. Then phosphorus can be precipitated and used as fertilizer. Although technically feasible, LCA points out that the separate use of hydrochar and phosphorus represents an overall environmental burden for wide range of impact categories, including climate change and resource depletion. Therefore, other applications for phosphorus-rich hydrochars, like agriculture and horticulture, should be considered.

Original languageEnglish
JournalResources, Conservation and Recycling
Pages (from-to)111-118
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Advanced hydrochar
  • Low-ash solid fuel
  • Phosphorus extraction
  • Phosphorus fertilizer

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