The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are focused on promoting ‘prosperity while protecting the planet’. By harvesting resources from wastewater, MTE is enabling a transition to the sort of circular economy principles which underpin a range of SDGs.
The world’s wastewater contains a jumbled mess of minerals, metals and nutrients that are incredibly valuable, but only in their pure form. The key to extracting these resources, while retaining their purity can be found in nature. MTE have borrowed from plant functionality to develop a technology that can benefit a range of industries, including agriculture, mining and renewable energies.
More than water, More than waste.
It is estimated that global wastewater contains three million metric tons of phosphorus, 16.6 million metric tons of nitrogen and 6.3 million metric tons of potassium. By recovering these nutrients from wastewater we can offset 13.4% of global agricultural demand for these resources.
Ammonia, a compound used to create fertiliser and an essential element in crop production, is another key resource that can be efficiently harvested from liquid waste using MTE’s novel approach.
“The increasing cost of fertilisers puts a lot of pressure on Australian farmers, and yet huge proportions of these molecules are currently lost in wastewater”, MTE Co-founder Associate Professor Caitlin Byrt.
Advances in precision separation technology also offer security to flood and drought prone communities by providing reliable access to clean water in the face of worsening weather events, as a result of climate change.
“Clean water and the security of nutrient resources underpin agricultural productivity. The development of technologies to sustainably manage these resources is essential for food security in Australia and globally”
The mining industry in Australia creates more than 500 million tons of waste per year – waste which is rich in resources like copper, lithium and iron. But unless these resources can be separated out in their pure form, the liquid waste remains just that….waste.
MTE offer a feasible solution – borrowing from the specialised molecular mechanisms plants use to sort the good from the bad,
“Resources such as boron, and iron are critical to future energy technologies and plants are masters at separating these types of resources”
By reusing and repurposing resources harvested from waste, mining companies can improve productivity and performance, while progressing environmental outcomes.
As we navigate the transition to the mining of resources needed for alternative energy sources, it is critical that we do so in ways that promote circular economy initiatives and a respect for sustainability.
Lithium consumption has increased dramatically in recent decades and demand continues to grow exponentially. As the building block of green energy storage systems, sustainable access to lithium is critical to the success of global responses to the climate crisis. The balance of supply and demand needs to be optimised if we are to sustain the drive to electric vehicles and alternative energy grids.
MTE offers a cost-effective, and environmentally friendly means of harvesting pure lithium, from primary aqueous systems, and secondary waste solutions.
Equally, ammonia is a critical storage molecule for hydrogen fuels and growth of the hydrogen industry will create a strong increase in demand. It is calculated that ammonia and hydrogen molecules from wastewater could provide electricity to 158 million households so it’s imperative that we harvest the value of resources in waste,
Fluid solutions borrowed from nature
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The research team thank ANU for supporting the MTE initiative, which involves translating research outcomes from the Byrt lab at ANU into solutions for future resource management