Earlier this month, the City of Saskatoon and Vancouver-based Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies Inc. officially opened Canada’s first commercial nutrient recovery facility at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The project is the first commercial plant of its kind in Canada to use Ostara’s nutrient recovery process to recover phosphorus and nitrogen from the facility’s wastewater stream and transform them into a slow-release fertilizer. Water Canada spoke with Ostara CEO Phillip Abrary to learn more.

Phillip Abrary (left), president and CEO of Ostara, and Donald Atchison, mayor of Saskatoon. Photo: David Stobbe

Water Canada: What’s the challenge in Saskatoon?

Phillip Abrary: Saskatoon has a long pipeline that’s used to pump sludge to off-site dewatering lagoons. The city was having a chronic problem with these pipes becoming plugged with struvite, mineral deposits that can choke process equipment.

When these pipes become plugged, it can compromise the entire operation of plant. You have a bottleneck in the system that requires constant cleaning and maintenance.

Saskatoon has been tracking our company’s progress for some time, starting with a visit to our demonstration plant in Edmonton back in 2007. Our partnership is a combination of them getting to know us and our process, and waiting to see that the process was solid and working.

What are the costs of struvite buildup?

Aside from maintenance—things like descaling pipes—there are all kinds of direct costs, like dealing with nutrients or energy use. The ancillary benefits are harder to quantify. How do you value having the peace of mind that your plant isn’t going to shut down?

What kinds of results do you expect to see?

Our process will be physically removing the nutrients. Over time, the overall load will become considerably lower. The system has been in operation for several months, but it will take them some time to see results. We’re aiming to recover 75 per cent of the phosphorus and 10 per cent of the nitrogen from the wastewater stream before they accumulate in the equipment.

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What happens to the fertilizer?

We purchase the fertilizer from the wastewater plant. That’s our typical arrangement. It’s a revenue-sharing opportunity, so they don’t have to bother with task of having to deal with the fertilizer. We sell the fertilizer to blender distributors for turf, ornamentals, and, in the future, we’ll sell for some agricultural crops.

Do you have plans to operate in any other Canadian plants?

That’s in the works. We hope to make announcements regarding at least two more in the next few years.

Look for more on this facility in Water Canada’s September/October 2013 issue.

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