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Hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) is of interest in producing liquid fuels from organic waste, but the process also creates appreciable quantities of aqueous co-product (ACP) containing high concentrations of regulated wastewater pollutants (e.g., organic carbon, nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P)). Previous literature has not emphasized characterization, management, or possible valorization of ACP wastewaters. This study aims to evaluate one possible approach to ACP management via recovery of valuable scarce materials. Equilibrium modeling was performed to estimate theoretical yields of struvite (MgNH4PO4·6H2O) from ACP samples arising from HTL processing of selected waste feedstocks. Experimental analyses were conducted to evaluate the accuracy of theoretical yield estimates. Adjusted yields were then incorporated into a life-cycle energy modeling framework to compute energy return on investment (EROI) for the struvite precipitation process as part of the overall HTL life-cycle. Observed struvite yields and residual P concentrations were consistent with theoretical modeling results; however, residual N concentrations were lower than model estimates because of the volatilization of ammonia gas. EROI calculations reveal that struvite recovery is a net-energy producing process, but that this benefit offers little to no improvement in EROI performance for the overall HTL life-cycle. In contrast, corresponding economic analysis suggests that struvite precipitation may be economically appealing.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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