Phosphorous extraction and heavy metal separation from sewage sludge ash by two-compartment electrodialysis in an upscaled tube reactor

Lisbeth M Ottosen*, Dines Thornberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Two-compartment electrodialytic extraction (2C-ED) is a one-step process for the simultaneous phosphorous extraction and separation of heavy metals from sewage sludge ash (SSA). The process is driven by an applied electric DC field, which can be supplied from renewable sources. The proof-of-concept of the method was conducted in small laboratory cells; however, upscaling to a continuous 2C-ED process, which additionally can treat SSA suspensions at a low liquid-to-solid (L:S) ratio, requires a new design. This paper presents such a new design. In principle, ED consists of two compartments separated by a cation exchange membrane. One compartment contains a suspension of SSA in water and the anode. A cathode is placed in the other compartment. Electrolysis at the anode acidifies the suspension causing the dissolution of phosphorous and heavy metals. The heavy metals are separated from the suspension by electromigration into the catholyte, whereas the dissolved phosphorous remains in the dispersion solution. In the new design, the SSA was suspended in a tube-shaped reactor with the cation exchange membrane covering the outside. The reactor was placed in a container with the catholyte. Periodically turning off the reactor kept SSA in suspension even at a low L:S ratio without corners and pockets where the SSA otherwise tends to settle. Five 2C-ED experiments were conducted with 1.5 to 3 kg SSA at varying currents and durations. Up to 89% P was extracted. The extracted P was concentrated in the dispersion solution of the SSA suspension, where the obtained P-related concentrations of heavy metals were far below the limiting values for spreading on agricultural land. The experiments underlined that treating the SSA in a suspension with a low L:S ratio is advantageous. A comparison to previous laboratory experiments in small cells treating 50 g SSA shows a significantly more efficient use of the applied current in the new reactor setup. Thus, the new reactor design for 2C-ED fulfilled the set criteria for the operation and did additionally result in a higher efficiency than the laboratory setups, i.e., the design can be the first step towards an upscaling.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Pages (from-to)117881-117891
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Sewage sludge ash
  • Phosphorous
  • Electrodialysis
  • Heavy metals
  • Extraction
  • Recovery


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