Electrochemical route outperforms chemical struvite precipitation in mitigating heavy metal contamination

Runhua Wang, Zhengshuo Zhan, Bingnan Song, Michel Saakes, Renata D. van der Weijden, Cees J.N. Buisman, Yang Lei*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Electrochemically mediated struvite precipitation (EMSP) offers a robust, chemical-free process towards phosphate and ammonium reclamation from nutrients-rich wastewater, i.e., swine wastewater. However, given the coexistence of heavy metal, struvite recovered from wastewater may suffer from heavy metal contamination. Here, we systematically investigated the fate of Cu2+, as a representative heavy metal, in the EMSP process and compared it with the chemical struvite precipitation (CSP) system. The results showed that Cu2+ was 100% transferred from solution to solid phase as a mixture of copper and struvite under pHi 9.5 with 2–20 mg/L Cu2+ in the CSP system, and varying pH would affect struvite production. In the EMSP system, the formation of struvite was not affected by bulk pH, and struvite was much less polluted by co-removed Cu2+ (24.4%) at pHi 7.5, which means we recovered a cleaner and safer product. Specifically, struvite mainly accumulates on the front side of the cathode. In contrast, the fascinating thing is that Cu2+ is ultimately deposited primarily to the back side of the cathode in the form of copper (hydro)oxides due to the distinct thickness of the local high pH layer on the two sides of the cathode. In turn, struvite and Cu (hydro)oxides can be harvested separately from the front and back sides of the cathode, respectively, facilitating the subsequent recycling of heavy metals and struvite. The contrasting fate of Cu2+ in the two systems highlights the merits of EMSP over conventional CSP in mitigating heavy metal pollution on recovered products, promoting the development of EMSP technology towards a cleaner recovery of struvite from waste streams.

Original languageEnglish
Article number133418
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2024


  • Ammonium
  • Copper ions
  • Coprecipitation
  • pH
  • Swine wastewater


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