Sea salt bittern-driven forward osmosis for nutrient recovery from black water: A dual waste-to-resource innovation via the osmotic membrane process

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A dual “waste-to-resource” innovation in nutrient enrichment and recovery from domestic black water using a sea salt bittern (SSB)-driven forward osmosis (FO) process is proposed and demonstrated. The performance of SSB as a “waste-to-resource” draw solution for FO was first evaluated. A synthetic SSB-driven FO provided a water flux of 25.67±3.36 L/m2 · h, which was 1.5–1.7 times compared with synthetic seawater, 1 M NaCl, and 1 M MgCl2. Slightly compromised performance regarding reverse solute selectivity was observed. In compensation, the enhanced reverse diffusion of Mg2+ suggested superior potential in terms of recovering nutrients in the form of struvite precipitation. The nutrient enrichment was performed using both the pre-filtered influent and effluent of a domestic septic tank. Over 80% of phosphate-P recovery was achieved from both low- and high-strength black water at a feed volume reduction up to 80%–90%. With an elevated feed pH (∼9), approximately 60%–85% enriched phosphate-P was able to be recovered in the form of precipitated stuvite. Whereas the enrichment performance of total Kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN) largely differed depending on the strength of black water. Improved concentration factor (i.e., 3-folds) and retention (>60%) of TKN was obtained in the high-nutrient-strength black water at a feed volume reduction of 80%, in comparison with a weak TKN enrichment observed in low-strength black water. The results suggested a good potential for nutrient recovery based on this dual “waste-to-resource” FO system with proper management of membrane cleaning.

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This study was conducted with the support of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 51708408) and the Asian Institute of Technology Research Initiation Fund.

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Correspondence to Wenchao Xue.

Additional information


•A dual “waste-to-resource” application of FO was proposed.

•Performance of sea salt bittern as an economic FO draw solution was evaluated.

•High quality struvite recovery from black water using FO was demonstrated.

•Feed pH is a key factor to control the form of recovered phosphorous.

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Xue, W., Zaw, M., An, X. et al. Sea salt bittern-driven forward osmosis for nutrient recovery from black water: A dual waste-to-resource innovation via the osmotic membrane process. Front. Environ. Sci. Eng. 14, 32 (2020).

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  • Forward osmosis
  • Sea salt bittern
  • Black water
  • Nutrient recovery
  • pH