Scientists harvest resources from wastewater

A team of researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) and CSIRO has been awarded over $1 million to develop technology that recovers valuable resources from wastewater.

The technology is inspired by breakthroughs in biological research, including mimicking the way plants extract nutrients and adapt to toxic molecules in the soil.

The project will address a growing need to ensure reliable access to clean water and essential nutrients – including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – to support and grow Australia’s agribusiness sector in the face of climate change and geopolitical challenges.

Although Australia is a net exporter of food products, the country imports more than 80% of the fertilizers used. The war between Ukraine and Russia has led to a sharp increase in fertilizer prices and exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains, putting pressure on Australian farmers to absorb price increases.

ANU plant scientist Dr Caitlin Byrt said there was demand across a range of industries for the technology.

“The technology we are developing is inspired by evolved membrane separation mechanisms found in nature to achieve selective separation of valuable nutrients, elements and water from complex liquid wastes,” Dr. Byrt said.

“We will work with industry to test a prototype of our technology. If successful, the end product could have application across the food industry, in industries such as dairy, horticulture and food manufacturing.

CSIRO researcher Dr. Cathryn O’Sullivan said the wastewater resource harvesting project was possible through the collaboration of researchers from both institutions to create a multidisciplinary team.

“Circular technologies bring together waste producers, environmental managers and resource consumers, so they require a multidisciplinary approach,” said Dr O’Sullivan.

“This project will bring together a team of plant biologists, waste treatment experts, chemists and membrane technologists, from ANU and CSIRO, to develop an innovation that will enable the production of safe and economically viable circular fertilizers .”

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