LIFE Project Cover Photo

Enhanced Nitrogen and phosphorus Recovery from wastewater and Integration in the value Chain

Reference: LIFE16 ENV/ES/000375 | Acronym: LIFE ENRICH



The wastewater treatment sector discharges a significant amount of re-usable nutrients into the environment (e.g. rivers, dewatered sludge and the atmosphere). One such nutrient is phosphorus, which is essential for agriculture. Modern agriculture is dependent on phosphorus mining, derived from high-grade phosphate rock, which is a non-renewable resource. The present consumption of rock phosphorus as fertiliser is over 1 million tonnes per year (Rahman et al., 2011). The phosphate rock is unevenly distributed around the world, with more than 70% of reserves located in Morocco. Due to the relevance of this material for the strategic agriculture sector, the EU has included phosphate rock as a critical raw material in the framework of the EU Raw Materials Initiative. Additionally, manufacturing fertiliser from phosphate rock is highly complex and environmentally unfriendly.

Nitrogen is another nutrient present in effluent from wastewater treatment plants (WTTPs) that poses a threat to the quality of water (via eutrophication) and air (through ammonia emissions). In this case, the presence of nitrogen in wastewater also affects the carbon footprint of the plant as the biological nitrogen removal processes emit nitrous oxide (N2O), a strong greenhouse gas. The integration of alternative processes for nitrogen recovery could therefore have a positive impact on WWTPs’ environmental footprint, and help achieve the objectives of the Water Framework Directive, the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the 2020 EU Climate and Energy Package.

The production of dry sludge from WWTPs in the EU-27 amounted to 10.13 million tonnes in 2013. The Sewage Sludge Directive and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive encourage the use of sludge in agriculture, as long as it is not a threat to the environment and human health. In Spain, WWTPs generate about 1.2 million tonnes of sludge. Up to 82.6% of the sludge generated is used as fertiliser, although its direct use in agriculture poses several environmental problems for soil and water quality due to the presence of pollutants such as heavy metals.


LIFE ENRICH will demonstrate a cost-efficient and highly replicable recovery system for nitrogen and phosphorus from WWTPs and its valorisation in agriculture (either via direct use on crops or through the fertiliser industry). To this end, the project will design and build a new sludge line configuration in Murcia Este’s WWTP that aims to extract and concentrate phosphorus in the liquid phase with a later full recovery via crystallisation. The nitrogen recovery unit will be based on ammonium adsorption into zeolites combined with membrane contactors. The products obtained will be combined in order to find optimal mixtures and their agronomic properties will be validated at full-scale through field tests, in order to ensure the products' viability.

Specific objectives are to:

  • Define the business model for the entire nutrient recycling value chain, integrating nutrient producers and final end-users, and propose a business plan for Spain;
  • Assess the replicability of the business model in other European countries (France, Germany, Poland and the UK have been preselected);
  • Validate a treatment train integrating different technologies for the recovery of both nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater in existing WWTPs;
  • Increase the efficiency of phosphorus recovery by implementing new elutriation schemes for enhanced production of different forms of struvite, and contribute to its regulation in future fertiliser directives;
  • Develop membrane contactors technology for the production of ammonium salts, and contribute to its regulation in future fertiliser directives (proposal for specifications);
  • Promote the agronomic value of digested sludge as a source of nutrients (N and P) and organic carbon; and
  • Define the optimal fertiliser mixtures for crops of interest and demonstrate the agronomic properties of the recovered products.

    In addition to the benefits relating to water and climate policy, the project will help implement the new EU Circular Economy Action Plan through the recovery of phosphorus, a critical raw material. Such materials are a priority area of the plan.

    Expected results:

  • Development of a treatment and operational system for nitrogen and phosphorus recovery in an existing urban WWTP – 80% of the plant's P (>50% as struvite) and 15% of the plant's N recovered as nutrient-rich products;
  • Development of a new business model integrating the different stakeholders involved in the nutrient value chain (nutrient producers, fertiliser companies, end-users and administrations) which ensures the replicability of the value chain in other case studies;
  • Development of the membrane contactors technology for the production of ammonium salts;
  • 10% reduction of the WWTP's total operational costs, comprising mainly the savings on: o Energy for aeration – a 15% reduction of the aeration requirements expected; o Sludge disposal – controlled struvite precipitation resulting in lower volumes of dewatered sludge requiring disposal (Savings of 15% can be achieved); and o Uncontrolled precipitation – maintenance costs reduced by more than 50%;
  • Staying above 110% of the Spanish average crop productivity. Maintaining similar productivity by applying the fertilisers produced in the project in relation to a control treatment with commercial fertilisers;
  • 80-90% reduction of the emissions associated with the production of conventional nitrogen fertilisers which range from 1.0 to 8.5 kg CO2 eq/kg of fertiliser (depending on the product and the source);
  • 25% reduction of the N2O emissions, through implementing a more efficient strategy of fertiliser management; and
  • Guidelines to replicate the value chain demonstrated in the project in other countries.


    Reference: LIFE16 ENV/ES/000375
    Acronym: LIFE ENRICH
    Start Date: 01/09/2017
    End Date: 30/11/2021
    Total Eligible Budget: 2,770,781 €
    EU Contribution: 1,662,467 €
    Project Location:


    Coordinating Beneficiary: CETaqua, Centro Tecnolgico del Agua, Fundacin Privada
    Legal Status: PNC
    Address: Carretera dEsplugues, 75, 08940, Cornell de Llobregat (Barcelona),
    Contact Person: Joana Tobella Brunet
    Email: Send Email
    Website: Visit Website

    LIFE Project Map



    • Waste recycling
    • Waste water treatment


    • waste water treatment
    • waste recycling
    • sludge treatment
    • fertiliser


    • COM(2015)614 - "Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy" (02.12.2015)


    Name Type
    CETaqua, Centro Tecnolgico del Agua, Fundacin Privada Coordinator
    Empresa Municipal de Aguas y Saneamiento de Murcia, S.A, Spain Participant
    Proyectos para el sector del agua, S.A.U, Spain Participant
    Universitat Politècnica de València, Spain Participant
    Aigües del Segarra Garrigues S.A, Spain Participant
    Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Spain Participant
    Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentàries, Spain Participant