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Cofunded by the European Union

An award-winning example of a research project grown to become a pilot installation – that is the urban mining of iron phosphate mineral vivianite.

Not only the deep blue colour of this crystal reminisces of the EU flag, symbolically this innovation has the same goals: towards a unified, harmonious Europe. Wherein ’waste’ becomes a recourse, and EU reliance is minimised. Built too from European finances, the programme from Dutch research institute Wetsus that started it all – ViviMag®, laid out the groundwork and first tests. And now, the Finnish company Kemira, as a part of the commercialization process are verifying the technology at several different kinds of WWTPs with is leading the first fully automated pilot plan tthat can recover phosphorus from about 15.000 PE.

Cause of eutrophication, restrictive laws, foreign reliance, and an economically crucial raw material – there are plenty of reasons to prioritise the capture and recovery of phosphate. Yet, until recently, there were few means to do so. Sure, the magnesium-nitrogen-phosphate mineral struvite is recovered in some wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). But that is by no means extensive. There is only so much phosphate you can win back with this method that is restricted to sewage plants that apply enhanced biological phosphorus removal.

An attractive alternative

There is another way, however. When researchers from the technical university Delft and the European centre for sustainable water technology – Wetsus, started questioning what other minerals phosphate may form they, to their surprise, found vivianite was the most abundant one. With the iron salt dosing in WWTPs, a common practice for phosphorus removal, this blue crystal was already there; in fact, it was causing scaling problems in some places. Now was just a matter of how to recover it.

The answer laid within the compound itself. The mineral is most famed for its colour but has another property that makes it an interesting element – its paramagnetism. This means that vivianite will become magnetic under the influence of a large magnet. And soon, lab-scale tests showed that attractive recovery was an attractive alternative indeed.

Award-winning technology

With the financial aid of EU projects like EIT Raw Materials and Watermining, a first pilot installation was built soon after. In the south of the Netherlands, the smallest available industrial scale electro-magnet separator proved the feasibility of recovering vivianite from sludge on-site. Up to eighty per cent of the generated vivianite was reclaimed. This success would eventually grant the group a patent and a silver award at the International Water Association conference 2022.

Kemira, a Finnish global leader in sustainable chemical solutions for water-intensive industries, took over the patent. They have just finished a trial with a novel fully automated ViviMag® pilot plant at Veolia Schönebeck, Germany. The second trial has started at VCS Søndersø, Denmark and The Netherlands will follow. One water authority in The Netherlands is already looking into the realisation of a full scale facility. 

From research to market

This project has gone from an unidentified market need to a commercialization stage in a relatively short time period thanks to the cross-functional cooperation between university, water industry, end users of the technology and the products already from an early stage. As a research institute, Wetsus has played an important role in facilitating the research and development work and also has hosted several PhD students whose work has contributed with critical knowledge for the ViviMag® technology to become an attractive option for phosphorus recovery from wastewater.

From waste water to powering e-cars

Innovative ideas on the mineral keep growing, like the scale of the technology. Further applications for producing and using the mineral are around the corner too. EU funds like the RECAP project stimulate research in vivianite outside of the wastewater treatment setting, for instance in manure and lake sediments. Using vivianite as fertiliser could be a serious contender in some niche markets. Even more compelling is the fact that vivianite could be a perfect raw material for Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4 or LFP) batteries, which do not require cobalt. Wetsus and TU Delft have started work on this research perspective and if successful it could contribute significantly to even more EU Green Deal goals.


Other news

The Water4All Partnership - Water Security for the Planet - is a funding programme for scientific research in freshwater. It aims to tackle water challenges to face climate change, help to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and boost the EU’s competitiveness and growth.

It is co-funded by the European Union within the frame of the Horizon Europe programme (a key funding programme for research and innovation). The Partnership duration is for seven years from 2022.

The Water4All objective is to enable water security at a large scale and in the long term. Its goal is also to tackle water issues in a holistic frame. 

All forms of life on earth need water. All human activities operate with this resource. Water is part of our everyday life. It is also integrated within urban and countryside landscapes. It is one of the most valuable elements we share with plants and animals.

These simple facts must be kept in mind to understand the Water4All ambition.

This resource is weakened in many places due to climate changes, and human habits. We know that we can improve the way we use water. Everyone has a role to play and especially the scientific research community.

Scientific research is the heart of the Partnership as It is a powerful tool to improve knowledge on preserving, restoring, and managing this essential resource. 

International cooperation is also needed as water has no borders on Earth and runs from one country to another.

Water4All brings together a broad and cohesive group of 90 partners from 33 countries in the European Union and beyond. This consortium gathers partners from the whole water Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) chain.