MAKING A BUSINESS FROM STRUVITE CRYSTALLISATION FOR
WASTEWATER TREATMENT: TURNING WASTE INTO GOLD
* E. v. Münch, A. Benesovsky-Scott, J. Josey and K. Barr
Brisbane Water, 240 Donaldson Road, Rocklea, QLD 4106, Australia
When nitrogen and phosphorus are released to the environment, they can cause environmental damage
to the surface water, groundwater and soil. The struvite crystallisation process can help achieve the aim
of operating our industries in an environmentally sustainable manner. This process could form the basis
of a business for a “Company X”, and this business opportunity is outlined in this paper.
The strategic issues for this business revolve around emerging trends in the environment protection
legislation to issue stricter licences with respect to nitrogen and phosphorus discharges from wastewater
treatment plants, piggeries and other industries affecting the quality of our waterways. The market
research performed for this business has identified two main target markets: pig industry and local
government owning domestic wastewater treatment plants with anaerobic sludge digesters.
This paper describes the market research performed for this business, the resulting strategic analysis,
strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the business, and a summary of the financial plan for
Company X. The by-product of the struvite crystallisation process, MAP (magnesium ammonium
phosphate), is a valuable slow-release fertiliser that allows recovery of the limited resource phosphorus.
Keywords Digester sidestreams, phosphorus recovery, nitrogen, piggery effluent, wastewater
treatment, struvite, MAP
As scientists and engineers, we spend a lot of resources on researching and developing new wastewater
treatment processes. But once a promising new technology is found, how is it introduced to the market?
It is often due to this difficult commercialisation step that good research ideas get lost and do not fulfil
their potential. One approach for successful commercialisation of innovation is to develop a business
plan for the new product and find investors. This paper describes key elements of such a business plan
for commercialising a novel phosphorus removal wastewater treatment process in Australia. The
business plan proposes to set up a new company, “Company X”, to market the struvite crystallisation
process (SC Process) in Australia.
Excessive loads of nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater can cause environmental damage on three
levels (Kruger et al., 1995):
? Surface water pollution (eg. excessive growth of algae, eutrophication, killing wildlife)
? Groundwater pollution (eg. nitrates in groundwater are toxic to humans)
? Soil pollution (eg. soil degradation, leaching).
The current trends and activities indicate that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Australia
is to issue environmental licences that specify lower nitrogen and phosphorus discharge concentration
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limits. This requires that industry and government invest in technology to remove the nitrogen and
phosphorus from wastewater.
The struvite crystallisation process can cost-effectively remove the pollutants nitrogen and phosphorus
from wastewater. The Japanese company Unitika Ltd. has been marketing a technical implementation
of the struvite crystallisation process under the name of Phosnix since the early 1990s (Katsuura, 1998).
Unitika Ltd. has patented certain technical aspects of the Phosnix process but no patents have been
lodged in Australia. Our business would market a struvite crystallisation process in Australia that is
using the same principles as the Phosnix process. For the purpose of the business plan, we call our
process the SC Process (for struvite crystallisation process).
As will be shown later in this paper, the SC Process can satisfy the needs of two large customer groups
in Australia for effective wastewater treatment. These two major customer groups are:
? Pig producers
? Local governments that own and operator domestic wastewater treatment plants with anaerobic
THE STRUVITE CRYSTALLISATION PROCESS
The SC Process removes nitrogen and phosphorus from nutrient-rich wastewater by binding these two
compounds together in the form of crystallised struvite which can be used as a slow-release fertiliser
and has commercial value in its own right. Nutrient-rich wastewater (Table 1) mainly originate from the
following three sources:
? Animal production plants (piggeries, abattoirs, feedlots, poultry, aquaculture such as prawn farming,
dairy, rendering plants, etc.)
? Domestic wastewater treatment plants with anaerobic digesters (where anaerobic digesters are used
for sludge treatment, they produce waste sidestreams that are high in nitrogen and phosphorus).
? Fertiliser production plants.
Table 1. Concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus for nutrient-rich wastewaters.
Type of wastewater Total N Total P Reference
(mg/L) (mg/L) Sidestream from domestic wastewater 800 to 1000 60 to 150 v. Münch and Barr (2001)
treatment plant with anaerobic sludge
Piggery effluent prior to screen 2175 850 Kruger et al. (1995)
Piggery effluent after pond treatment 384 44 Kruger et al. (1995)
Piggery sludge after pond treatment 2617 1696 Kruger et al. (1995)
The scientific principle underlying the SC Process is that at an elevated pH value, the crystal “struvite” (magnesium ammonium phosphate, in the following referred to as “MAP”) forms, provided that
sufficient amounts of the chemical compounds magnesium, ammonium and phosphate exist in the
wastewater to be treated.
Research has been performed into the SC Process at pilot scale (143 L reactor, Figure 1) by v. Münch
and Barr (2001). The influent for the SC Process was centrate from the centrifuge that dewaters
anaerobically digested sludge at the Oxley Creek wastewater treatment plant in Brisbane. The results
from this research program are briefly summarised below:
? The pilot-scale SC Process achieved an ortho-P removal ratio of 94% from an influent ortho-P
concentration of 61 mg/L.
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? The alkali and magnesium source used was a 60% magnesium hydroxide slurry (MHS-60). The
reactor was operated at a pH of around 8.5. Insufficient dosing of magnesium reduced the P
? The SC Process can be realised in a one-vessel operation at short hydraulic residence times (1 to 2
hours). For influent flowrates in the range of 20 to 120 L/h, the P removal performance was
independent of the HRT.
? The MAP product fulfilled all the requirements for its use as a slow-release fertiliser in Queensland,
with cadmium, lead and mercury concentrations being well below the legal limits.
? The ammonia-N removal ratio of the MAP process was about 6%, which was in agreement with the
theoretically expected removal ratio based on the N:P ratio of the influent. To achieve significant
nitrogen removal, phosphorus would have to be added in a stoichiometric quantity. The phosphorus
could be added in the form of technical grade phosphoric acid or commercially available fertilisers
such as Superphosphate.
Magnesium hydroxide solution
3 mm plastic tube
V notch weir
Settling zone with
ID 600 mm
Clear PVC reactor, ID 300 mm,
total liquid height 1365 mm,
total liquid volume 143 L
air bubbles in reaction zone
MAP crystals (settle to
bottom when air off)
30 mm PVC pipe
MAP product removed
intermittently (when air off)
Figure 1. Diagram of pilot-scale MAP reactor with ancillary equipment (v. Münch and Barr,
Munch page n? 3
SC Process for piggery effluent
The environmental problems associated with the excess nutrient loads from piggery effluent are
? Soil acidification by nitrogen transforming bacteria
? Toxic levels of nitrate in forage or reduced forage palatability (for grazing animals) ? Phosphorus in surface soils is mobilised and enters surface water leading to eutrophication (typified
by algal blooms)
? Phosphorus leaching into ground water
? Nitrogen (in its nitrate form) leaching and run-off
Piggery effluent is very amenable to be treated with the SC Process for the following reasons:
? Piggery effluent and sludge are very high in nitrogen and phosphorus (Table 1). ? Unintentional struvite crystallisation occurs in a majority of effluent treatment facilities of piggeries,
showing that it is very easy to produce struvite from this wastewater. ? Many piggeries recycle their effluent for cleaning and flushing, and this increases the nitrogen and
phosphorus concentration of the effluent even further.
? Piggery owners could use the MAP by-product as fertiliser on their farms.
SC Process for domestic wastewater treatment
The SC Process is not intended to treat raw sewage but rather nutrient-rich sidestreams in a domestic wastewater treatment plant. It is often due to these sidestreams (also referred to as sludge dewatering liquors) that it is impossible to achieve extremely low levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the effluent. This is particularly the case for plants with enhanced biological phosphorus removal, because
phosphorus is released in anaerobic digesters and then not removed in the sludge. With the SC Process, a biological nutrient removal (BNR) wastewater treatment plant can be upgraded to significantly
improve its nitrogen and phosphorus removal performance.
Where the SC Process is intended to be used for a domestic wastewater treatment plant, it is ideally
? the plant is a BNR plant with enhanced biological phosphorus removal
? the plant has anaerobic digesters for sludge digestion (because of their potential to produce
biogas/energy from wastewater, anaerobic digesters will play an increasingly important role in
wastewater treatment in the future).
By-Product of SC Process: MAP
Unlike many other wastewater treatment processes, the SC Process produces no harmful by-products.
The by-product that is produced, MAP, is commercially valuable (note: this MAP is not to be confused
with mono-ammonium-phosphate, which is also often referred to as “MAP”). MAP is produced as a
powder (Figure 2) or a granule of various granule sizes. MAP can be used as an ingredient in mineral
The theoretical composition of MAP on a weight basis is 9.9% magnesium, 5.7% nitrogen, 12.6%
phosphorus with the remainder being crystalline water. MAP satisfies a need for mineral slow-release
fertilisers and has many potential uses in horticulture, for nurseries, golf courses, etc. MAP is likely to be of most benefit to customers as a “boutique” fertiliser. An alternative to supplying the product
directly to end-users is to sell it in bulk to a fertiliser manufacturer for use as a raw ingredient in their products.
Munch page n? 4
Figure 2. Photograph of MAP produced from the pilot-scale SC Process at the Oxley Creek
wastewater treatment plant.
Further research work is required in the following areas:
? Investigate optimal conditions for piggery effluent treatment with the SC Process.
? Investigate the performance of MAP as a mineral slow-fertiliser.
? Investigate the substitution of magnesium in the process with zinc, potassium or other metals. A
variety of metal ammonium phosphate crystals can be formed through crystallisation. For some
soils, zinc may be more beneficial than magnesium.
Primary and secondary market research for this business has been performed with the following goals:
? Identify key potential customers
? Determine market characteristics and customer’s requirements
? Determine the size of the market
The results from the market research have formed the basis for the strategic analysis that is presented
later in this paper.
One important avenue for the primary research was a survey amongst selected wastewater industry
professionals. All participants were wastewater experts, either with respect to domestic wastewater or
with respect to industrial wastewater, such as piggery effluent. Twenty filled-in questionnaires were
received, which corresponds to a return rate of 61%.
The purpose of the questionnaire was to determine:
? Possible interest in use of the service offered
? Suitability to the potential customers’ operation
? Technical issues related to aspects of the process
? Perceived direction of regulatory authorities with respect to discharge limits.
The main findings from the survey are shown in Table 2.
Table 2. Primary market research: survey results and significance for the business.
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Survey result Significance for the business
65% of the participants were unaware of the Company X will be first to market, but has
1 existence of the SC Process. to make an effort in promoting the
technology and generating awareness
amongst potential customers.
Two thirds of the participants thought that it There is a general consensus in the industry
2 would be beneficial or very beneficial to have that sidestream treatment will become an
separate sidestream treatment for biological emerging trend for upgrading existing
nutrient removal WWTPs. 25% did not know – biological nutrient removal plants.
some of these may not have been familiar with
the term “sidestream”.
1. 35% of the respondents knew of other processes 3The fact that struvite’s fertiliser qualities are
3 with useful by-products. 70% of respondents generally known means less promotional
knew that struvite was a valuable fertiliser and work will be required in that area. The other
60% thought there would be a market for it. “useful” by-products listed were of much
lower commercial value than MAP.
2. 85% of the respondent3s were convinced that the This confirms the emerging trend in EPA
4 EPA limits would become stricter in the future licensing to become more stringent with
with respect to nutrient discharge limits. respect to nitrogen and phosphorus
3. All but 5one respondent thought that animal This confirms that the animal production
5 production industries had effluent problems industry is a major client for Company X.
with respect to nitrogen and phosphorus.
4. Piggeries were quoted by 70% of the 6This confirms that amongst the animal
6 respondents as having the most effluent processing industry, piggery operators are
problems compared to other animal production the most likely target market.
industries, followed by poultry and abattoirs
(multiple answers were possible).
5. None of the respondents ruled out that piggery 7As above
7 operators might be interested in the SC Process
technology (55% yes, and 45% undecided).
6. 45% of the respondents thought that piggery 8This shows that there would be a market for
8 operators would pay a separate company for the service of wastewater treatment for
effluent treatment if such a service was offered piggery operators.
(45% were undecided).
7. 60% of the respondents knew of unintentional 9Anywhere where there is unintentional
9 struvite crystallisation, and piggeries and struvite formation there is also potential for
anaerobic digesters were cited as examples. the SC Process.
Our marketing objectives are to:
? Create awareness of the SC Process with the legislator (once it is known that a process exists to
economically remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater streams, the EPA licences are
more likely to tighten).
? Position the product as the most cost effective solution to the task of achieving low phosphorus
? Educate the key target groups on the benefits of the system.
Company X will adopt the following initiatives as its marketing strategy:
? develop and implement an educational campaign to inform industry (both piggeries and local
government) that phosphorus removal problems can be solved with the SC Process solution.
? monitor the performance of initial installations and continually investigate methods of enhancing
? monitor market reaction to initial installations and use testimonials to assist in sales promotion.
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HOW WILL OUR BUSINESS OPERATE
The operation of Company X will be flexible to suit the customer’s needs. Our preferred business model is that our Company X owns the equipment and charges the customer a monthly fee for treating their wastewater.
From the first point of contact with the client to the successful operation of the SC Process, Company X will move along the following steps:
? Characterise waste stream
? Conduct bench-scale or pilot-scale trials on customer site if required (decision on applicability of
process is made at this point)
? Establish contract agreement
? Customise layout/design of SC Process as required
? Project management of construction
? Commissioning, operation, optimisation, training
? Long-term operation and maintenance of the asset
? Asset may be handed over to client after specified period
The strategy of the operations plan is as follows:
? The first site in Australia will be the demonstration site for future units. ? We will use a standard modular design of the SC Process so that little additional design work is
required for each new installation.
? The expected written-off life of a SC Process is ten years (although the customer may choose to
operate their individual units much longer). Little maintenance is required for the SC Process as
there are no moving parts (except pumps).
STRATEGIC ANALYSIS OF BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT
Futures analysts and forecasters predict natural resources will become the most valuable commodities as we move away from the industrial age. The full economic benefits of conserving resources are not being recognised because we fail to bring to account the full cycle of savings. Phosphorus is considered one of these resources and is being consumed; it is not a renewable resource and is therefore expected to increase in value.
The condition of waterways in Australia has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. This has resulted in a number of studies being commissioned by government and community groups to determine conditions of waterways and promote remedial action through legislation and licensing conditions.
Stricter conditions are now being placed on those industries adversely affecting water catchments and discharging directly into waterways. The EPA considers the environmental deficiencies identified by these studies and enacts licence requirements that are “reasonable and practical” from an industry perspective. The considerations are not based on individual capacity to pay but on whole of industry. It is therefore expected that these water quality concerns will elevate the importance of nitrogen and phosphorus removal in the future.
The SC Process is the type of process the EPA would like to have developed as it has a useful by-product and does not produce harmful residues or other waste. The SC Process has the capability to dispose of waste streams from other industries (for example, incorporating them as a magnesium source).
Munch page n? 7
Pig industry analysis
At many sites, pig production is limited by the effluent disposal options. Land application is the most
effective method of disposal in Australia, however soils do not have an unlimited capacity for re-using
effluent, therefore, adequate land area is needed.
Pig production is hence a major contributor to declining water quality in surface water bodies. The
industry is aware of the need to minimise phosphorus inputs into surface water. Excess application of
piggery effluent to land can result in on-farm soil damage and off-farm effects on ground and surface
The Australian pig industry is experiencing significant waste management problems which threaten the
future viability of the industry. Meo and Cleary (2000) show that the number of pig producers has
reduced from approximately 40,000 in 1969 to approximately 3000 in 1999, however the pig population
has remained fairly stable over this period (Figure 3). The average herd size has increased from 8 to
over 100 pigs. This trend towards fewer piggeries, but larger concentrations of pigs has resulted in a
greater concentration of pig waste.
200Sows (in '000s)20
Pig producers (in '000s)10010
Pig producersSows Figure 3. Structure of the Australian pig industry: Number of pig producers and breeding sows
from 1960 to 1999.
Our business is favoured by the trend towards fewer, larger piggeries. The cost of the SC Process may
be prohibitive to small producers, however we are mainly targeting the larger customers who have to
act in an environmentally responsible manner with respect to waste disposal.
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Figure 4. Australian piglets at a piggery; for every sow on a piggery there are approximately 9
Effluent from a piggery is diluted with water used for flushing, washing, water cooling and spillage. A
minium effluent production for efficient piggeries is about 100 litres per sow place per day where
recycled flushing is practised, or 150 litres per sow per day where fresh water flushing is used. This
may range up to 250 litres per sow per day (Kruger et al., 1995). Hence, the 300,000 sows that currently
live in Australia (Figure 3) would produce between 30 to 75 ML/d.
Fresh manure production and characteristics depend on the type of production. For example, for a 100
sow “farrow to bacon” unit, about 21.7 kg nitrogen and 7.3 kg phosphorus is produced as manure per
day (Kruger et al., 1995). From the phosphorus that is contained in the manure, about 21 t/yr. of MAP could be produced for a 100 sow unit.
Local government wastewater treatment analysis
The opportunity for our business is of such advantage that we believe government would support some
funding for the public benefit attributed to its introduction. Since there is “economy of scale” for
wastewater treatment operating costs, there is a general trend for large centralised wastewater treatment
facilities, at least in the major cities of Australia. Such large facilities are more likely to invest in
sidestream treatment than smaller wastewater treatment plants.
There are only about 750 domestic wastewater treatment plants installed around Australia (which is a
small number per capita compared to the fragmented water industry in some European countries). The
top ten wastewater treatment plants treat around 50% of the total wastewater generated in Australia
(AWA, 2000). Twenty WWTPs were identified that have anaerobic digesters, and hence sidestreams
that would be amenable to the SC Process.
Table 3 is an abbreviated version of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (“SWOT”) to
this business together with the appropriate responses.
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Table 3. SWOT analysis and strategic responses for the business of Company X.
Strengths Weaknesses Strategic response to weakness
The SC Process is a green Company X has a lack of Injection of funds at the
technology that allows working capital. appropriate milestones.
recycling of a waste
Staff of Company X has The staff of Company X Staff will visit piggeries, attend
detailed understanding and has no direct experience courses/conferences on animal
background knowledge of with the animal production issues. Experts will
the SC Process. production industry. be contracted in to provide
specific consultancy expertise.
Opportunities Threats Strategic response to threat
The pig industry is limited Pig producers are The product will be presented
by its effluent disposal conservative and do not in a manner which is
problem and in desperate embrace innovative conservative and
need of solutions. technology easily. environmentally focussed.
EPA is likely to become The EPA may not issue Promotional activities will
much stricter with licensing tougher environmental demonstrate the benefits of the
plants for nutrient release to licences due to political SC Process to the EPA.
the environment. reasons.
Company X is the first to Other companies in By being first to market we
market the SC Process in Australia may begin will create awareness and build
Australia. marketing similar credibility.
For the following analysis, the standard size for one SC Process unit is taken to be 0.5 ML/d. This size
would be sufficient for a piggery with about 2860 sows, which is a large herd. It would also be a
suitable size for a medium to large domestic wastewater treatment plant (in the order of average dry
weather flow of 50 ML/d).
The market research undertaken indicates that the potential market sizes are:
? About 105 units in the pig industry (based on about 52.5 ML/d of effluent produced by the 300,000
sows in Australia)
? About 20 units for local government wastewater treatment plants (this is a conservative estimate)
The predicted market penetration is 2% for the pig industry in the first year. From then on the growth
will substantially escalate to 10% market penetration in the pig industry as legislation compels
industries to conform to stricter licence requirements and early adopters refer new customers.
The SC Process operating cost structure is detailed below. Costs are quoted in Australian dollars which
equalled 0.59 Euro at the time this paper was written.
The construction and installation cost of one standard SC Process is estimated to be $400,000. Unitika
Ltd provided this cost for manufacture in Japan, but further work will be undertaken to obtain a more
precise cost estimate under Australian conditions.
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