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Biochar seeding promotes struvite formation, but accelerates heavy metal accumulation

Muhmood, Atif, Lu, Jiaxin, Kadam, Rahul, Dong, Renjie, Guo, Jianbin, Wu, Shubiao
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.652 pp. 623-632
Escherichia coli, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, agricultural land, ammonium, biochar, coliform bacteria, crystal structure, fertilizers, heavy metals, magnesium ammonium phosphate, pH, particle size, pathogens, rice hulls, sowing, wheat straw
This study investigated the effects of biochar seeding (wheat straw biochar and rice husk biochar) on nutrient recovery via struvite formation, and improvements in the particle size of precipitated struvite from anaerobic digestate supernatant. Simultaneously, the influence of biochar seeding on heavy metal accumulation and elimination of pathogens (total coliforms and Escherichia coli) was evaluated under various operational factors, e.g., pH, supersaturation, reaction time, and seeding rates. Compared to the non-seeding process (maximum recovery efficiency of phosphate and ammonium 91% and 83%, respectively, with a particle size of 70 μm) and the struvite-seeding process (maximum recovery efficiency of phosphate and ammonium 97% and 94%, respectively, with a particle size of 100 μm), the process of biochar seeding improved nutrient recovery up to 7% and 11% for phosphate and ammonium, respectively, and increased struvite particle size by 43%, regardless of biochar type. XRD diffraction and FTIR analysis confirmed the prevalence of orthorhombic characteristics and an inner crystalline structure of the struvite formed by biochar seeding. About 75% of total coliforms and 70% of Escherichia coli were removed from the digestate supernatant through seeded struvite precipitation, regardless of the seeding materials. However, the biochar seeding process led to an accumulation of heavy metals in the acquired struvite product than that with non-seeded precipitation process. The concentrations of these metals were still well below permissible limits for application on agricultural land. It can be concluded that the inclusion of biochar as a seeding material might be a sustainable strategy to enhance struvite formation, intensify nutrient recovery, and yield high-quality struvite fertilizer with increased particle sizes.