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Device Mines Precious Phosphorus From Sewage

Soulskill posted about 7 months ago | from the still-working-on-vespene dept.

Earth 96

ckwu writes "Scientists predict that the scarcity of phosphorus will increase over the next few decades as the growing demand for agricultural fertilizer depletes geologic reserves of the element. Meanwhile, phosphates released from wastewater into natural waterways can cause harmful algal blooms and low-oxygen conditions that can threaten to kill fish. Now a team of researchers has designed a system that could help solve both of these problems. It captures phosphorus from sewage waste and delivers clean water using a combined osmosis-distillation process. The system improves upon current methods by reducing the amounts of chemicals needed to precipitate a phosphorus mineral from the wastewater, thus bringing down the cost of the recovery process."

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A hard day... (4, Funny)

mythosaz (572040) | about 7 months ago | (#46093639)

It was a hard day down in the device mines. :(

ha ha (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093967)

:) Thanks for that.

+1

Re:A hard day...Mining bulshit (1)

retroworks (652802) | about 7 months ago | (#46095573)

I read the summary twice and thought... WHAT phosphorous shortage?? "Scientists predict..." Is this a joke? I found this article that agrees with me. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ti... [forbes.com]

Perhaps the original "source" thought that a finite mineral "reserve" meant the resource itself is finite. The current phosphorous mining operations find enough to last 300 years and then stop exploring for it (making a fininite "reserve" of what they've found). We are going to run out of lots of other things (like tin and copper, sea floor minining is going to be UGLY) before we have to send anyone into the pee-pee mines. I have a limited number of socks in my sock drawer, but it doesn't mean there's a socks shortage, or that we need to mine them from coffins.

Re:A hard day...Mining bulshit (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46096911)

Even if the phosphorus 'shortage' isn't a valid reason for this tech, algal blooms ARE a serious threat to farming & fisheries produce, as well as native wildlife.

http://www.mdba.gov.au/river-data/water-quality/bga

I for one cannot wait to see these installed along the banks of the Murray-Darling River

Re:A hard day...Mining bulshit (1)

LunaticTippy (872397) | about 6 months ago | (#46102379)

Phosphorus shortages have already happened. A lot of farms suffered a few years ago when an intentional shortage spiked prices to 10x normal. There really aren't many places left where you can cheaply shovel high grade ore.

Aside from the supply, which is large but has already been manipulated, lets look at the pollution. If we can recover phosphorous from rivers for anything close to the cost of mining it this will be a huge benefit. We could reduce dead zones and improve river ecosystems which would have an enormous economic benefit.

If drifting piles of socks made giant areas around cemeteries uninhabitable and people remember paying $100 per sock a few years back maybe coffin-mining would be studied. I don't see any reason it is a bad idea to recover a valuable resource that is doing harm downstream.

Now if we can get this device onto storm drains... (4, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | about 7 months ago | (#46093649)

Sewage is one thing, but if we can mine storm drains where the golf course runoff goes, that is where this device would be extremely useful.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 7 months ago | (#46093899)

You do know where those storm drains lead to, right?

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (5, Informative)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46093939)

It varies from municipality to municipality. Some directly drain into local streams, others go into sewer systems, and some have separate systems.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (4, Informative)

Stormy Dragon (800799) | about 7 months ago | (#46093941)

Storm drains generally separate from the sewage system; the cost of treating hundreds of thousands of gallons of extra rainwater would bankrupt most communities. That's why it's usually illegal to dump waste into the storm drains.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (1)

SydShamino (547793) | about 7 months ago | (#46094225)

I'm my 1940s neighborhood, there are warning signs on all the storm drains that they go directly into the creek, and that no dumping is allowed.

In the overall city, though, any stormwater system installed after 2000 (at least, maybe earlier) has to send its water through the sewer system to be processed. I thought that was required nationwide, but maybe it's because of specific EPA requirements on our creeks (some of which have tested poorly for various contaminants).

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (2)

Stormy Dragon (800799) | about 7 months ago | (#46094615)

Exactly the opposite:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]

Combined sewer systems mostly predate the development of sewage treatment and only about 13% of the US is currently served by a system where sewage and storm water are sent through the same pipe. The remaining hold outs are largely being forced to separate their systems by the EPA to comply with the Clean Water Act.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (1)

SydShamino (547793) | about 7 months ago | (#46095365)

Your link refutes your claim. The issues described on Wikipedia are for Combined Sewage Overflow (CSO), in which the combination of stormwater runoff and human sewage are discharged directly in the lakes and streams. That's what the EPA is restricting per the link, not the processing of stormwater via the sewer system in the same, safe way and human sewage, as I described going on in my city.

The Wikipedia article describes, as one remedy for CSO, the creation of a second sewer system for stormwater runoff. Ostensibly that's what my city is doing - sending the stormwater into the sewer system to be processed (just not the same sewer system as human waste).

Alternatively, some cities are expanding their (single) sewer system to accommodate both. Other cities are creating surface-level systems (stormwater detention/retention ponds, vegetated filter strips) to slow and filter stormwater using things other than the sewer system. But the important part isn't that stormwater and human sewage are treated separately; the important part is that A) stormwater is treated, at all, so that street runoff doesn't end up unfiltered in the creeks and lakes, and B) that human sewage is never allowed to overflow into the creeks and lakes under any circumstances.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (1)

Stormy Dragon (800799) | about 7 months ago | (#46095627)

Yes, some cities are making other arrangements because digging up the entire sewer system to modernize it is prohibitively expensive. But as the article indicates, only a small number of communities are doing so ("About 772 communities in the United States have combined sewer systems, serving about 40 million people"). No one is building new systems that way.

Even if your community is being force to treat its runoff, I'd wager the storm water is still arriving at the treatment plant via an entirely independent pipe system than the sanitary sewer. If not, then you ought to prosecute whoever was in charge of designing it because they were incompetent to the point of negligence.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (1)

SydShamino (547793) | about 7 months ago | (#46126123)

At least any new stormwater runoff is being treated, unlike in my neighborhood. Surface runoff after storms was what the EPA hit us for, since what they found were IIRC particulates from vehicle deposits, or something like that.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093979)

In my area, yes I do. Straight into the bay.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46094159)

Unless your town is getting fined by the EPA, they go somewhere other than into the sanitary sewers. Every flash flood is not an excuse to have excrement in the streets.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 7 months ago | (#46094547)

Depends, places with older systems (e.g. NYC) have combined storm and sanitary sewers. The problem isn't excrement in the streets, but that sustained heavy rains overload the sewage treatment. In practice some nasty stuff gets dumped into waters around NYC when that happens.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (3, Informative)

Stormy Dragon (800799) | about 7 months ago | (#46094819)

That's because NYC's sewer system is so old that when it was originally built, there was no such thing as a sewage treatment plant. They could use one set of pipes because everything was just getting dumped into the harbor anyways. Now that they have plants, they retain a problem of having to dump untreated sewage in the harbor when the plants get overloaded during storms.

If your municipal water system was built after activated sludge control became common in the 1930s, storm water is probably handled separately from sanitary sewage.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093915)

Depends on how the sewage system is designed. The storm sewers ended up always at the waste water plant but may make a detour into a retention recreational flood lake depending on the neighborhood. Where I grew up most of the water in the city went thru the sewage plant first. That included drain off. They had overflows built in incase of storms. So the storm water would be filtered as well as the nastier stuff. But the nastier stuff always got priority before dumping it into a river at about 99% clean.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (4, Informative)

the_scoots (1595597) | about 7 months ago | (#46094257)

Or, perhaps retain storm drainage on golf courses so their fertilizer doesn't end up in streams to begin with. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org] If golf courses and farmers wouldn't mow and plow right down to the water and then over-fertilize, we could reduce phosphorus in streams a ton. If you're interested in the health of golf course sized stream in the US, I recommend checking out the EPA Wadeable Stream Assessment (I worked on the field work in Arkansas) http://water.epa.gov/type/rsl/... [epa.gov]

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about 7 months ago | (#46094667)

"If golf courses and farmers wouldn't mow and plow right down to the water and then over-fertilize, we could reduce phosphorus in streams a ton."

I was wondering when someone was going to mention farming. In the overall scheme of things, golf courses mean next to nothing.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 7 months ago | (#46095955)

But at least farms serve a purpose. Undoubtedly we should reduce fertilizer usage on farms (there are ways to do it without affecting yield) but it should be banned altogether on golf courses, and seriously limited on lawns. What is it with golfers and pretty green fairways anyhow? The original Scots golfers would have laughed at them, and pointed out that if you need such manicured fairways you just don't know how to play.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (5, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 7 months ago | (#46094401)

but if we can mine storm drains where the golf course runoff goes

I was thinking, if we can mine golf courses . . .

It would certainly make the game more exciting to watch on TV.

Re:Now if we can get this device onto storm drains (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46097413)

Golf courses use very little phosphorus fertilizer, mostly nitrogen.

Subject goes here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093659)

Good thing it uses fewer chemicals to precipitate the phosphorus, we'd be in real trouble if we ran out of those chemicals.

Re:Subject goes here (3)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46093681)

Oh no. There needs to be a law keeping us from running out of "chemicals."

I hereby call on congress to mandate the conservation of mass, in case we run out.

Re:Subject goes here (4, Funny)

TheCarp (96830) | about 7 months ago | (#46093767)

No no, we could get all the phosphorus we need, now and forever, if we could just violate the law of conservation of mass! This is entirely a problem caused by bad legislation! We don't need more, we need congress to repeal the law of conservation of mass!

Re:Subject goes here (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093875)

You know, it would really not surprise me if they tried.

Re:Subject goes here (2)

SpaceCracker (939922) | about 7 months ago | (#46094479)

I'm not sure this is a job for congress. I believe this is a problem that creationists should be working on. If they can pull this one off they will demonstrate their superiority over that satanical ideology called science.

Re:Subject goes here (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | about 7 months ago | (#46093773)

We should limit entropy too. That will stop all of those useful chemicals from being "converted". Reconversion to the true faith of "useful chemicals" is an expense the heretics love making us pay.

No need (2)

AF_Cheddar_Head (1186601) | about 7 months ago | (#46094427)

We don't need to limit entropy, all we need to do is deny it exists, We can be Entropy Deniers. Works for Global Warming why not Entropy.

Re:No need (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about 7 months ago | (#46094549)

Wouldn't be permitted. Lots of global warming deniers are also evolution deniers, and they cite what they think the Second Law means as proof.

Every utopian prediction (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46093665)

Every utopian prediction for the future from the most authoritarian to anarchist depends on humanity getting very good at recycling. Every new process that can get something valuable from *ahem* unsorted wastes is a step to a positive need-free future.

Re:Every utopian prediction (2)

causality (777677) | about 7 months ago | (#46093727)

Every utopian prediction for the future from the most authoritarian to anarchist depends on humanity getting very good at recycling. Every new process that can get something valuable from *ahem* unsorted wastes is a step to a positive need-free future.

That would be another case of learning from nature.

Re:Every utopian prediction (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46093799)

Counterpoint: Nature doesn't actually assimilate steel girders in any useful way. We use nature for recycling, where nature is good at it. Animal waste for fertilizer, bacteria for waste-water treatment, but it's not some intelligent entity that's "better" at it than us.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

DickBreath (207180) | about 7 months ago | (#46093907)

Counter counterpoint: Nature probably does assimilate steel girders in a useful way. It just does not do so quickly enough to be useful to short lived ugly bags of mostly water.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 7 months ago | (#46094243)

I'd go with 'a bit of both' when it comes to steel. The list of biological systems containing iron is not a short one; but a massive amount of iron occupies the vital niche of "being a reddish oxide in dirt". I hate to get teleology in my nice clean biology; but I think it's fair to say that iron is only the limiting factor in certain very specific niches (there are some areas of ocean that will algae bloom like crazy if you provide them with iron, so obviously they aren't getting as much as they want), while most ecosystems just can't be bothered to suck any more out of the ground, despite it being there.

Re:Every utopian prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46094273)

I'm convinced that coal mines and dinosaur bones are artificats of a prehistoric civilization that fucked up their planet by covering it Wall-E style with garbage.

Opposite (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 7 months ago | (#46095245)

Actually the dinosaurs achieved perfect recycling which is why you find only bones and no other artifacts. It turned out when nothing was permanent or well made, they all lost the will to live, and died of a deep malaise.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

dAzED1 (33635) | about 7 months ago | (#46093965)

but it's not some intelligent entity that's "better" at it than us

are you so afraid of religion that even science scares you? Over the course of billions of years, systems which fail will cease, and systems which work will succeed. A working system is/was present; saying we could be "learning from nature" means little more than being observant and realizing that many of our problems have already been solved in the system (aka Nature). Where the system has a solution which is too slow, or has a few steps we don't like per se, maybe we tweak it a little...but when you learn from someone you don't simply mimic them - that's not learning. When you learn from someone, you take what they are showing you and adjust it to fit your experiences. Like we can, with Nature.

"some intelligent entity..." - yeesh! Lighten up, Francis!

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 7 months ago | (#46095437)

That's not a very real view of nature.
Nature doesn't solve things, it is adjusted by things.

Re:Every utopian prediction (2)

dAzED1 (33635) | about 7 months ago | (#46096345)

"systems which fail will cease, and systems which work will succeed" - how, pray-tell, is that not an accurate view of natural systems?

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 7 months ago | (#46093847)

Every utopian prediction for the future from the most authoritarian to anarchist depends on humanity getting very good at recycling. Every new process that can get something valuable from *ahem* unsorted wastes is a step to a positive need-free future.

That would be another case of learning from nature.

If you ask me, the OP hasn't learned anything. He used the phrase "need-free future" which pretty much put him somewhere on the intelligence scale between below average and creationist. Humans will always need yummy nitrogen-oxygen mixtures, food, fresh water, and social contact. Run out of any of those four basic things and what you get is either death, or something close to it. There's more things people would probably put into the 'needs' category, but the point here is that there is no such thing as a "need free" future, and whether it's utopia or dystopia you believe in, the question we all face is not whether or not we have a future, but rather what kind it will be as numbers increase and resources diminish.

If our previous 20,000 years of history is any indication, there's only one way it ends: With a lot of death. Whether it's due to plague, starvation, or war, eventually a large portion of the human race is going to die. Recycling is a good idea, but humanity's survival doesn't depend on it... it's a quality of life issue, not one of survival of the species. We can use up our whole planet and render it into a wasteland and there will still be humans on it.. they just won't be very happy.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46093959)

If our previous 20,000 years of history is any indication, there is mostly no Internet or cars.

Such ideas are clearly silly, and limited only to nincompoops.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

khallow (566160) | about 7 months ago | (#46097437)

If our previous 20,000 years of history is any indication, there's only one way it ends: With a lot of death. Whether it's due to plague, starvation, or war, eventually a large portion of the human race is going to die.

What part of that 20,000 years of "history" (including over 14,000 years of prehistory) actually indicates what you think it indicates? I don't see it myself.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

causality (777677) | about 7 months ago | (#46099927)

If you ask me, the OP hasn't learned anything. He used the phrase "need-free future" which pretty much put him somewhere on the intelligence scale between below average and creationist.

You see, I used a little benefit of doubt there. This caused me to assume that perhaps I'm not the only person here who's not a moron. Thus, his words read, to me, like he was talking about a viable future free of human-caused disasters. It didn't occur to me to think he was proposing humans would stop needing oxygen in the future or anything as silly as that, since he plainly made no such claim. In fact I question the security of someone who has to go to such lengths just to make him seem wrong and themselves seem right.

"Need-free" doesn't mean you never have needs, it means those needs are being met. When we say people around the world are starving, it is understood that they have no access to food (poverty, famine, local warlords, etc). It would be asinine to think "heh those dumbasses, why don't they open their fridge?" That's what you are doing here.

You're really coming across as either insecure or smug on this one.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | about 7 months ago | (#46093801)

Some of the dystopian ones too... Soylent Green anyone?

Re:Every utopian prediction (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about 7 months ago | (#46093889)

I might just be cynical, but I never really saw that as fundamentally different that burning people, tossing their ashes into the ocean, and eating the fish that eat the algae that eat their body. It's all just matter at that point.

Eating people is only wrong on two factors.
#1 obvious human pathogen risk
#2 disrespect to those that cared about the deceased.

In the world of Soylent Green, no one cared about those that elected suicide, and they got processed by algae that ate their corpses, limiting the pathogen risk.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

Type44Q (1233630) | about 7 months ago | (#46094063)

Eating people is only wrong on two factors.

#3 it can lead to mutated-prion diseases?

Re:Every utopian prediction (2)

TheCarp (96830) | about 7 months ago | (#46094137)

> #1 obvious human pathogen risk

While true, this is often overstated I think. This is true of any meat consumption really, especially if not well cooked. Even Kuru has CJD, similar disease from cow consumption. Any bacteria that can live in our flesh can likely live in theirs, and while many viruses are species specific, we have enough similarities for many to cross too.

> #2 disrespect to those that cared about the deceased.

Of course, there are those who don't feel this way. I even know one person who actually expressed that his ideal send off would be for his friends and loved ones to cook and eat his flesh. So whether it is disrespect or respect is really in the eye of the beholder.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | about 7 months ago | (#46094641)

Of course, there are those who don't feel this way. I even know one person who actually expressed that his ideal send off would be for his friends and loved ones to cook and eat his flesh. So whether it is disrespect or respect is really in the eye of the beholder.

Was his name Valentine Michael Smith? And as noted in referenced book, the major christian religions partake in symbolic cannibalism regularly!

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

MrL0G1C (867445) | about 7 months ago | (#46095191)

#1
Yep, don't shag monkeys.

#2
Sounds like a rotten idea to me.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

TheCarp (96830) | about 7 months ago | (#46095349)

> Yep, don't shag monkeys.

Or Great Apes for that matter.... which includes humans of course but.... safety first right?

> Sounds like a rotten idea to me.

No you need to cook the meat before it rots.

Re:Every utopian prediction (1)

clickety6 (141178) | about 7 months ago | (#46095227)

~~ I even know one person who actually expressed that his ideal send off would be for his friends and loved ones to cook and eat his flesh. ~~


  1. don't bury me if I should die
    I don't want my bones to lie
    six feet under - six feet down
    covered by unfeeling ground
    please don't leave me here alone
    with nothing but a cold, hard stone
    a name, two dates and nothing more
    don't leave me for the worms to gnaw
    instead
    peel off my useless skin
    and expose the meat that lies within
    chop me, slice me, mince and dice me
    mix me with those herbs and spices
    turn me into sausages
    and invite my friends round for the feast
    lay me down on smoking Teflon
    hear me sizzle as I fry
    make my headstone mashed potato
    warm and fluffy, piled up high
    smother me in steaming gravy
    let onions be my funeral wreath
    give the mourners knives and forks
    and tell the priest to cry "let's eat!"
    so succulent!
    such tender Tim!
    I never knew he had such taste!
    and he made so many sausages
    let's have some more - a shame to waste
    eat heartily my faithful friends
    for this is how I want to end
    don't bury me if I should die
    if there's a heaven - let me fry!

Re:Every utopian prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46094155)

Two-dimensional thinking detected in a three-dimensional solar system.

Re:Every utopian prediction (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 7 months ago | (#46094205)

" "Why do the smoke-stacks have those things like balconies around them?" enquired Lenina. "Phosphorus recovery," explained Henry telegraphically. "On their way up the chimney the gases go through four separate treatments. P2O5 used to go right out of circulation every time they cremated some one. Now they recover over ninety-eight per cent of it. More than a kilo and a half per adult corpse. Which makes the best part of four hundred tons of phosphorus every year from England alone." Henry spoke with a happy pride, rejoicing whole-heartedly in the achievement, as though it had been his own. "Fine to think we can go on being socially useful even after we're dead. Making plants grow." Lenina, meanwhile, had turned her eyes away and was looking perpendicularly downwards at the monorail station. "Fine," she agreed. "But queer that Alphas and Betas won't make any more plants grow than those nasty little Gammas and Deltas and Epsilons down there." "All men are physico-chemically equal," said Henry sententiously."

" The Savage was reading Romeo and Juliet aloud–reading (for all the time he was seeing himself as Romeo and Lenina as Juliet) with an intense and quivering passion. Helmholtz had listened to the scene of the lovers' first meeting with a puzzled interest. The scene in the orchard had delighted him with its poetry; but the sentiments expressed had made him smile. Getting into such a state about having a girl–it seemed rather ridiculous. But, taken detail by verbal detail, what a superb piece of emotional engineering! "That old fellow," he said, "he makes our best propaganda technicians look absolutely silly." The Savage smiled triumphantly and resumed his reading. All went tolerably well until, in the last scene of the third act, Capulet and Lady Capulet began to bully Juliet to marry Paris. Helmholtz had been restless throughout the entire scene; but when, pathetically mimed by the Savage, Juliet cried out:

"Is there no pity sitting in the clouds, That sees into the bottom of my grief? O sweet my mother, cast me not away: Delay this marriage for a month, a week; Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed In that dim monument where Tybalt lies "

when Juliet said this, Helmholtz broke out in an explosion of uncontrollable guffawing.

The mother and father (grotesque obscenity) forcing the daughter to have some one she didn't want! And the idiotic girl not saying that she was having some one else whom (for the moment, at any rate) she preferred! In its smutty absurdity the situation was irresistibly comical. He had managed, with a heroic effort, to hold down the mounting pressure of his hilarity; but "sweet mother" (in the Savage's tremulous tone of anguish) and the reference to Tybalt lying dead, but evidently uncremated and wasting his phosphorus on a dim monument, were too much for him. He laughed and laughed till the tears streamed down his face–quenchlessly laughed while, pale with a sense of outrage, the Savage looked at him over the top of his book and then, as the laughter still continued, closed it indignantly, got up and, with the gesture of one who removes his pearl from before swine, locked it away in its drawer. "

-Brave New World

The recognition that running out of phosphorus is serious shit isn't even all that new.

cool.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093721)

all they need to do now is fix their filters and this will work. SWING AND A MISS!

using too much of it for 'cleansing' (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093765)

the most cost effective WMD http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=phosphorous+weapon

Seems to be missing 90% percent of the problem. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093789)

So what about the gold mine in the supposedly massive dead zones in places like the Gulf of Mexico from agricultural run off? How can we reclaim that?

Fancy technology (1)

Dasher42 (514179) | about 7 months ago | (#46093797)

But rapid-composting systems will render sewage into safe, non-smelly fertilizer in a year, provided you're not full of medications or using any fiendish chemicals. It'll get all the rest of the nutrients too. Really, all we need to do is replicate and rev up a natural system, and reclaim *all* the nutrients. There's a reason we aren't all drowning in dinosaur shit.

Seriously, a fancy jig to get just one nutrient back sounds like a money grab rather than a working whole system.

Re:Fancy technology (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46094007)

Seriously, a fancy jig to get just one nutrient back sounds like a money grab rather than a working whole system.

Sure, in places with the geography to allow it, compost mountains would be a great way to process many types of waste. In completely new city construction, a subterranean compost layer might work wonderfully.
This is more about applying a quick refit to existing systems that have been generally successful for decades to improve things without having to do a complete overhaul.

Re:Fancy technology (1)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 7 months ago | (#46094203)

Seriously, a fancy jig to get just one nutrient back sounds like a money grab rather than a working whole system.

Sewage treatment plants are not the only application of the technology. In principle, if phosphorus can be recovered cheaply enough, it could be extracted from agricultural runoff before that runoff enters the ecosystem.

Re:Fancy technology (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 7 months ago | (#46094313)

The history of 'biosolids' (seriously, that's the PR-speak phrase for composted sewage solids) as fertilizer is a bit mixed.

Assuming you don't fuck up the composting (not always a safe assumption, once the system moves into volume production and management by people who have to make budget) the stuff is largely pathogen free; but that doesn't do anything about anything that microorganisms that thrive on sewage don't help you with. Heavy metals, some drugs, some hormones(synthetic or not), some endocrine disruptors, any random plastics that end up down the sink, and so on. The concentrations aren't apocalyptic; but if you plan on routine use as fertilizer, better hope that they don't build up in the soil...

So called 'class B' sludge, where they don't even bother treating for pathogens, is of course even more fun than 'class A' where you only have to worry about anything that bacteria won't eat.

Re:Fancy technology (1)

smellsofbikes (890263) | about 7 months ago | (#46095577)

There was a fairly interesting Radiolab podcast about a program that shipped New York City's biosolids to Colorado for use as fertilizer: http://www.radiolab.org/story/... [radiolab.org]
It includes a significant discussion of waste treatment, pathogens, and the economics of shipping what some municipalities call hazardous waste cross-country.

Re:Fancy technology (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 7 months ago | (#46097599)

I've heard considerable... controversy... surrounding that disposal method. You've got a very curious situation where a material either has to be treated as (low level) hazmat or can be declared delicious, healthful, fertilizer, and spread over agricultural land. Verdicts tend to vary from 'environmentally sustainable reuse!' to 'You don't fucking mean that we provide legislative incentives to build waste dumps with absolutely no containment on top of active farmland?'.

(In one particularly, um, polarizing, case the department of Housing and Urban Development funded a study [sciencedirect.com] (sorry about the paywall, fuck Elsevier) on some convenient poor urban neighborhoods to see if healthful biosolids could reduce lead uptake by the residents. Accounts... vary sharply... as to how much the study population was told about what exactly was being done. There have been a number of similar studies, mostly on similarly poor and black neighborhoods, which has raised some questions about whether the study sites were chosen in part for ignorant powerlessness. To my knowledge, no followup data are available on the health effects of those studies, positive or negative.)

That's some funny shit (1)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | about 7 months ago | (#46094405)

Good idea- replicate and rev up a natural system, and just farm the P from sewer plants in Jurassic Park. You ever run across a pile of dinosaur shit? It ain't pretty, but sometimes when I get the munchies I think of all that delicious P I could have scooped off, probably more P than those bags of Cheetos in my closet.

Soylent Brown (5, Funny)

BlazingATrail (3112385) | about 7 months ago | (#46093835)

Soylent Brown.... shhhhh. it's made with poo!

Re:Soylent Brown (1)

DickBreath (207180) | about 7 months ago | (#46094141)

I think you are confusing that with McSoylent burgers.

Awesome! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093887)

All you need to make it work is energy.

Sweet! (1)

the_skywise (189793) | about 7 months ago | (#46093909)

Well... er... not actually...

But it's a cool idea...

imagine being sprayed with bleach while on fire (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093917)

feels like that

Not scarce, no rare (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46093935)

Common mineral. Common as dirt.

Where you do people find these articles?

Re:Not scarce, no rare (4, Informative)

Antipater (2053064) | about 7 months ago | (#46094109)

In 2012, the USGS estimated 71 billion tons of world reserves, where reserve figures refer to the amount assumed recoverable at current market prices; 0.19 billion tons were mined in 2011.[23] Recent reports suggest that production of phosphorus may have peaked, leading to the possibility of global shortages by 2040.[24] In 2007, at the rate of consumption, the supply of phosphorus was estimated to run out in 345 years.[25] However, some scientists now believe that a "peak phosphorus" will occur in 30 years and that "At current rates, reserves will be depleted in the next 50 to 100 years."[26] Phosphorus comprises about 0.1% by mass of the average rock, and consequently the Earth's supply is vast, although dilute

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phosphorus#Occurrence [wikipedia.org] .

"Peak phosphorus" sounds like "peak oil", but there does appear to be a number of people afraid of future scarcity. However, the ability to cheaply precipitate phosphorus out of sewage waste (and hopefully, with a few tweaks, out of agricultural runoff also), could significantly reduce dead zones [wikipedia.org] , especially the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. That seems reason enough to pursue this.

Re:Not scarce, no rare (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 7 months ago | (#46094351)

The annoying thing about 'Peak phosphorus', whenever you think it will actually occur, is that the stuff is drop-dead, full-stop, Not. Replaceable. for biological purposes(barring some seriously radical synthetic biology that makes no use of ATP, among other things). Oil is an absurdly convenient all-in-one energy source and chemical feedstock; but there are plenty of other energy sources and chemical feedstocks, albeit generally more inconvenient and/or expensive in some way. Phosphorus, though, is do or die for life as we know it.

Re:Not scarce, no rare (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46096061)

Unlike oil, phosphorus isn't consumed. It relocates. Much of it finishes up in sediment at the bottom of the ocean. If a lack of accessible phosphorus became life-threatening we'd start mining it from the seabed.

In reality I suspect we'll find new reserves to "get us over the hump" until human populations naturally decline in the 22nd century. But we'll be dead so who gives a shit.

Re:Not scarce, no rare (1)

blackanvil (1147329) | about 6 months ago | (#46101963)

When the natural deposits are gone, we'll mine the garbage dumps where lots of it ends up as bones, sewage sludge, and so on. And, while it would be energy intensive, there are undersea deposits yet untouched, and ultimately the seas themselves can be filtered for phosphorous -- it's where all the runoff, most of the bird guano, and all the sealife-sequestered phosphorus ends up anyway.

Re:Not scarce, no rare (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 7 months ago | (#46094119)

Common mineral. Common as dirt.

And yet, the primary industrial source of phosphorous is phosphate rock. Which has to mined. And of which we're running short.

Maybe you should consider that there's a reason for that?

good news for laundry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46094129)

When this happens, then maybe we can get phosphates back into our laundry detergent.

Already being commercialized (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46094271)

Check out Ostara. http://www.ostara.com/

Precious? (2)

Megane (129182) | about 7 months ago | (#46094279)

Gollum: We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious phosphorous. They stole it from us.

General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. 1946, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious phosphorous without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard-core Commie works.

Are we harvesting our own poop for phosphorus? (1)

Xaedalus (1192463) | about 7 months ago | (#46094295)

And if we aren't, then why aren't we? Night soil's a really good idea, even if culturally icky for Westerners.

Re:Are we harvesting our own poop for phosphorus? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 7 months ago | (#46095489)

Ii goes to a treatment plant where it is treated. The remaining solids are then driven out into farm land and flung into fields.

So, yes, yes we're and have been for a long time.

because bird poop is better (3, Interesting)

slew (2918) | about 7 months ago | (#46095595)

Originally, most phosphate production came from guano (basically petrified seabird poop). It was so strategically valuable, that the USA was allowing people to annex islands and exercise mining rights [wikipedia.org] with US military backing. The country of Nauru (aka Pleasant Island) once based their entire economy on it.

Of course, as with most things, we literally ate it all up (it's used to make fertilizer for plants) and now we rely on other sources. Then of course there are people that argue we have reached peak phosphorus [wikipedia.org] production of all possible sources...

What resource shall we queue up next in our sky-is-falling headline of-the-week?

Re:because bird poop is better (2)

antifoidulus (807088) | about 7 months ago | (#46097675)

What resource shall we queue up next in our sky-is-falling headline of-the-week?

All of them, until we reach "peak human", which should be by 2050 according to current predictions.

An effective, lower-tech method (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46094297)

A community-scale pilot project by the Rich Earth Institute [richearthinstitute.org] is demonstrating a fairly low-tech and cost-effective way to reclaim two thirds of the phosphorus and 85% of the nitrogen from human waste: recycling urine (which is nearly sterile and can be further sanitized very easily) directly into fertilizer. (Yes, #1 really does have a lot more fertilizer value than #2!) It's also being done in various public projects in Europe, Africa, and Asia, and by lots of gardeners around the world. There's also this book [liquidgoldbook.com] that talks about the history of urine as an industrial feedstock and modern methods for using it as a fertilizer at large or small scale.

Re:An effective, lower-tech method (1)

rsborg (111459) | about 7 months ago | (#46097651)

A community-scale pilot project by the Rich Earth Institute [richearthinstitute.org] is demonstrating a fairly low-tech and cost-effective way to reclaim two thirds of the phosphorus and 85% of the nitrogen from human waste: recycling urine (which is nearly sterile and can be further sanitized very easily) directly into fertilizer. (Yes, #1 really does have a lot more fertilizer value than #2!) It's also being done in various public projects in Europe, Africa, and Asia, and by lots of gardeners around the world. There's also this book [liquidgoldbook.com] that talks about the history of urine as an industrial feedstock and modern methods for using it as a fertilizer at large or small scale.

The problem with this in the modern world is the vast amount of pharmaceuticals in your average modern human, of which, yes, a good amount is secreted in urine.

(warning: pdf) http://www.ecosan.at/ssp/issue... [ecosan.at]

Re:An effective, lower-tech method (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46100441)

This is an important issue, but fertilizing with urine does a better job dealing with drugs than the status quo. When urine (including pharmaceuticals) goes into a sewer plant it only spends about 24 hours there (not long enough to break down many drugs) before being discharged into rivers or lakes--which we then drink! The aquatic environment may also be the one that is most easily damaged by hormones and drugs.

When urine is applied to the soil, it enters a highly active ecosystem with microbes that are adapted to break down and metabolize a huge range of complex compounds. And since the urine soaks into the soil and can be degraded by microbes over a period of weeks or months, it is a much better environment for eliminating pharmaceuticals than the standard sewer plant.

This is impossible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46094525)

Space is full of resources. After we're done throwing every atom of phosphorus on Earth into the black hole we apparently have, our brave, selfless billionaires will spend their fortunes for getting kilograms of phosphorus from the asteroid belt.

Don't worry Citizen, consume and obey secure in the knowledge that your job creators have your best interests at heart.

Space for the Species! (tm)

Were the researchers AFRICANS? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46094807)

Thought not.

Paging Dr. Obvious (1)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 7 months ago | (#46094831)

So the crowned heads of science have just figured out that if there's a shortage of agricultural phosphorus and a surplus of it in sewage? Why not just funnel the sewage, after primary treatment to break the disease transmission cycle, right onto our fields? A variation of this is being done in Phoenix, where the municipal wastewater is used as the heat sink for the city nuclear plant, in the process being boiled off to sludge. The sludge is then dumped onto the cotton fields surrounding the plant.

Re:Paging Dr. Obvious (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 7 months ago | (#46095505)

"So the crowned heads of science "
nice ad hom

"have just figured out that if there's a shortage of agricultural phosphorus and a surplus of it in sewage"
no. This isn't new.

"Why not just funnel the sewage, after primary treatment to break the disease transmission cycle, right onto our fields?"
many place do and have been for decades.

The problem is, you're an idiot who would rather make attacks, slander scientist and make shit up instead of thinking and take 5 minute to look something up.

Twit.

Re:Paging Dr. Obvious (1)

rogoshen1 (2922505) | about 7 months ago | (#46095717)

After living in Phoenix a short while I was shocked by a few things.. one of which was growing cotton. one of the 'thirstiest' crops out there, in the middle of a desert.
~5m people, in the middle of a desert -- helping to draw down the colorado river, and they're growing cotton. =/ (and corn too for what it's worth.)

Re:Paging Dr. Obvious (1)

Applehu Akbar (2968043) | about 7 months ago | (#46099723)

Because each state in the Colorado basin gets a share of the river in proportion to its population, the largest share of the water actually goes to the burgeoning population of Los Angeles. The way to really save the Colorado would be for coastal California to start desalinating its infinite supply of water. This could be a more efficient application for the state's constantly fluctuating renewable energy sources than trying to shoehorn it into the power grid.

Re:Paging Dr. Obvious (1)

rogoshen1 (2922505) | about 7 months ago | (#46100157)

Yeah, it just seems backwards to grow water reliant crops IN A DESERT. Externalities something something.

Where are all the nutrients you need? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46095585)

In a garbage dump + whatever has changed since the garbage got there.
 
Robots mining garbage dumps is the future. And dumped countries (China, Africa other poor areas) will be the superpowers of recycling and resources.

the problem is.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46097657)

We turned into scatterers from gatherers.
Don't you think?

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