Agricultural Phosphorus Adsorption Reactor

Our Story

Evaluation of an innovative phosphorus adsorption reactor for agricultural applications

Partner: BlueLeaf Inc.
Date: Nov 2016 – Feb 2018
Funding: NSERC ARD
Lead Researchers: Gordon Balch and Heather Broadbent

What We Did

With few exceptions, too much of a good thing tends to be a bad thing. Crops, for example, need nutrient-rich fertilizer to grow, but overapplying harms plants and their surrounding environments. Because the trio known as NPK—nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium—is so vital to soil health, it is often loaded onto croplands to safeguard against paltry yields. These nutrients drain into the watershed and flow into freshwater where they wreak havoc on the ecosystem. Herein lies the problem that BlueLeaf Inc., in partnership with our solutions-focused research team, sought to tackle.

BlueLeaf, a social purpose enterprise offering products and services that help its customers monitor, protect and improve the environment, developed an adsorption reactor for the capture, removal and potential recycling of phosphorus from agricultural drainage water. Among the NPK melange, phosphorus is especially troublesome, accelerating the growth of algal blooms that produce natural toxins and reducing the availability of dissolved oxygen needed by other species to thrive. It is considered one of the most difficult forms of nonpoint source pollution to mitigate. Each BlueLeaf reactor is designed for end-of-pipe installation at agricultural drain sites.

Over the course of a year, under various real-world agricultural regimes in southern Quebec, we conducted field trials of the prototype, evaluating its assembly, installation, maintenance and efficiency vis-à-vis Canada’s challenging seesaw-like climate. Of particular import, the research team analyzed and characterized the reactor’s phosphorus adsorption kinetics, examining the factors that influenced the release or retention of phosphorus around the reactor’s media. With the implementation of optimized design specifications, BlueLeaf’s already-successful reactor can operate with confidence under all climactic and flow conditions, positioning it as a leading competitor within a market expected to grow in the face of increasingly stringent environmental regulations around nutrient discharges.

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