Sources of industrial wastewater are facing tougher regulation, while tighter limits on nutrient discharge are being imposed to preserve the quality of waterways, according to VTT, a research organization owned by the government of Finland. This increases the need for more thorough purification technologies. Meanwhile, there is a significant potential for raw materials lurking in wastewater. A current project called TYPKI, coordinated by VTT, is aimed at promoting the recovery and refinement of nutrients into industrial chemicals, construction materials, and fertilizer additives, with initial focus on effluents generated by the mining industry.

Treatment of industrial wastewater creates effluents that contain substances such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur. It is harmful to discharge large amounts of nutrients into the environment, but when these nutrients are recovered, they can serve as valuable constituents of new circular economy products, according to VTT. At the same time, the use of virgin raw materials can be reduced, while boosting self-sufficiency in nitrogen-based and phosphorus-based industrial chemicals and fertilizer products in Europe, for example.

Technically and economically feasible solutions for treatment of wastewater and recovery of nutrients are being developed in the TYPKI project. Purification and separation technology covers different types of methods from pre-processing to membrane filtration or evaporation. When the methods are combined intelligently, valuable nutrients can be separated from the wastewater for further refinement.

According to VTT, legislation that steers circular economy products is changing, making it easier to productize wastewater and effluents. Constituents that can be separated from waste flows have been treated as waste-based substances, but now they are seen as valuable raw materials. This is important if circular economy products are to compete against products produced from virgin raw materials.

The TYPKI project envisages new nutrient innovations and circular economy products developed from industrial effluents. The effluents studied come from the mining sector, followed by chemicals and forest products.

“In new circular economy products, we are focusing especially on additives in chemicals that are used in the construction industry,” VTT Project Manager Hanna Kyllönen said. “We are seeking a better composition and clean product flows from which harmful substances and excess water, for example, have been removed. The goal is to develop competitive products with features that correspond to the customer’s needs.”

“A circular economy of metals has been at the core of our activities for about 20 years already. The TYPKI project is an important continuity for this pioneering work. Now we are latching on to this possibility of recovering nitrogen used in the mining industry, for example,” noted Jaana Koivumaa, project director for Tapojärvi’s subsidiary Hannukainen Mining.

VTT said the TYPKI project consortium includes research institutes and companies, from producers of wastewater to experts in purification and separation technologies, to manufacturers and users of recycled products.

“Our goal is to build the best possible consortium to develop new circular economy concepts and to promote Finland’s innovations and offerings in these themes. By joining forces, we can compete on the international circular economy market. There are undoubtedly other ongoing activities linked with recycled nutrients, and I hope that those who are interested in the theme would contact us,” Kyllönen remarked.

The two-year TYPKI project, partly funded by Business Finland, has a budget of €1.03 million ($1.26 million). The project consortium includes the University of Oulu, Tapojärvi, Aquaminerals, BioSO4, Brightplus, Industrial Water Ltd., Agnico Eagle, Gasum, Hannukainen Mining, Valmet and Yara.