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The sewage plant carries the sweet smell of valuable phosphorus

Mark Hume, Globe & Mail
When the delegates at an international conference on wastewater gathered in Vancouver last week they found themselves pretty much ignored by the media.

… But Ken Ashley, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia and one of the conference organizers, thinks the world missed out on a big story – about how to take sewage and turn it into highly valuable fertilizer.

“It may be the biggest uncovered news story on the planet,” he said in a post-conference interview.

What brought the 200 delegates to Vancouver was a looming global shortage of phosphorus and a groundbreaking nutrient recovery system developed at UBC.

Phosphorus is one of the essential elements of fertilizer. Without it crops whither.

The phosphorous in fertilizer comes from rock phosphate, which is mined primarily in Morocco, China and the United States.

Like oil, rock phosphate is running out.

The United States, historically the world’s biggest producer, is expected to exhaust its reserves in 25 years. China recently slapped a 135 per cent export tariff on phosphate, choking off exports. That leaves Morocco sitting on one-third of the world’s remaining supply – and reserves there are declining in quality and quantity.

“Phosphate production is going to peak around 2035 and then tail off,” Dr. Ashley said. “If we don’t do something we are looking at mass starvation.”

Almost nobody is talking about the problem, however, because it doesn’t seem real.
(18 May 2009)
One of the first sightings of peak phosophorous in the Northe American mainstream media. -BA

Waste not: recession leads to big drop in amount of rubbish we are throwing away

Rachel Shields, The Independent
England’s rubbish mountains are finally shrinking, with people binning less now than at any time in living memory. New figures obtained by The Independent on Sunday reveal that the conspicuous consumption and obscene wastage that have come to characterise the nation have slowed dramatically in the face of the recession.

Last week, the latest statistics from the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) revealed that the amount of waste sent to landfill or incinerated per person in England has fallen to the lowest level since estimates were first made…

…Experts believe that a number of factors have contributed to this remarkable fall, including a shift in public attitudes away from profligate living; a drop in the amount of white goods, such as washing machines and TVs, being thrown out; and a fall in construction waste, as the recession affects the number of building projects.
(10 May 2009)

Flushed with enthusiasm, Severn Trent sees light at the end of the tunnel for its new revenue plan

Robin Pagnamenta, Times ONline
One of Britain’s largest water companies is planning to convert waste piped from millions of British homes into fuel that could be sold to power companies.

Severn Trent, which supplies water and waste services to 3.7 million households, already generates nearly 17 per cent of the electricity that it consumes by burning sewage gas, or methane, collected from its network of sewage plants across the Midlands and mid-Wales.

Tony Wray, Severn Trent’s chief executive, told The Times that the in-house scheme was the first step in a programme to develop raw sewage sludge into pellet fuel for burning in power plants, which are being offered subsidies to switch to environmentally friendly biomass alternatives to coal and natural gas.
(4 May 2009)