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Dutch Tech Reclaims Organic Fertilizer at Drinking Water Plants

Royal HaskoningDHV has partnered with Dutch water supply company Vitens to help other drinking water companies around the world recover humic acid, an organic fertilizer.

Humic acid is often discharged as a waste product during the drinking water blanching process. However, it can now be reclaimed sustainably in its pure form, providing an organic soil improver.

The drinking water production company Spannenburg, in the Dutch province of Friesland, provided the platform for Vitens to apply its special combination of technologies—ion exchange and various existing membrane technologies—to blanch drinking water. This process creates a residual stream of water and salt as well as humic acid, a highly valuable organic substance from peaty soil which gives water a yellowish hue. Water and salt are completely reused during the production process while the humic acid, once regarded as a waste product, can now be utilized as a soil improver in the agricultural sector.

The sustainable usage of humic acid can reduce the need for artificial fertilizer and phosphates in agriculture and horticulture. This will improve the groundwater used to produce drinking water, and the growth of crops, as well as being better for the environment.

Humic acid occurs in coal and lignite as well peat, and Europe currently usually uses a chemical process on lignite imported from the U.S. and Australia to extract the acid. This process has an adverse effect on the environment, and is also expensive because of transport costs. The new technology will help drinking water companies recover humic acid from their own water, while also reclaiming a sustainable and local product—easily and without any chemical effect on the environment.

In other recent water news, Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently drank water produced from recycled human sewage. The OmniProcessor uses sewer sludge as its input and produces clean water, electricity and ash. The process is based on traditional waste incineration principles, but with key tweaks that could make it an affordable solution across the world.

In addition, The GW4 Alliance—a consortium of four leading research universities in the South West of England and Wales—announced late last year a new project to clean up water from a Cornish tin mine using algae to harvest the precious heavy metals and produce biofuel at the same time.


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