Phosphorus recovery from municipal wastewater treatment: Critical review of challenges and opportunities for developing countries

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


The aim of this paper is to provide guidance in selecting phosphorus recovery options within the municipal wastewater treatment sector regarding developing countries. This critical review includes a brief contextualization of the resource-oriented sanitation paradigm, the discussion of processes for phosphorus recovery based on methods at full-scale, pilot-scale and laboratory-scale, and a concise discussion of the environmental impacts and benefits associated with phosphorus recovery strategies. Finally, the main challenges related to the implementation of resource recovery strategies, especially for phosphorous, were identified and discussed. According to the results, some of the main drivers for phosphorus recovery are the limited availability of phosphorus, increasing cost of phosphate fertilizers and reduction of maintenance costs. Currently, most of the operational processes are based on crystallization or precipitation from the digester supernatant. Struvite is the most common recovered product. The recovery rate of phosphorus from the liquid phase is lower (10–60% from wastewater treatment plant influent), than from sludge (35–70%) and from sludge ashes (70–98%). Phosphorus recovery remains challenging, and some barriers identified were the integration between stakeholders and institutions, public policies and regulations as well as public acceptance and economic feasibility. In developing countries, the implementation of nutrient recovery systems is challenging, because the main concern is on the expansion of sanitation coverage. Resource recovery approaches can provide benefits beyond the wastewater treatment sector, not only improving the sustainability of wastewater treatment operations, but generating revenue for the utility provider.


External organisations
  • University of São Paulo
  • University of Johannesburg
  • University of Salford
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Environmental Management


  • Barriers to application, Fertilizer, Nutrient, Recycling, Resource recovery, Sustainable technology
Original languageEnglish
Article number109268
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Oct 15
Publication categoryResearch