Circular Economy of Phosphorus and Nitrogen


Phosphorus (P) scarcity and eutrophication of water streams are two major problems affecting the management of agricultural resources. Proper management of phosphorus is fundamental to achieve and maintain food security, especially in countries without phosphate mines, and in mitigation of environmental impacts in coastal zones, such as the Great Barrier Reef. Over the last two decades, the number of technologies for phosphorus recovery has significantly increased, however some of these have drawbacks. For example; need for high amounts of chemicals and in the case of wastewater treatment plants, promotes significant increase of biosolids. Phosphorus and nitrogen removal using low-cost adsorbents is considered as a potential environmentally friendly solution for nutrient recovery.

James Cook University have developed biochar from different biomass feedstock (such biosolids, algae, wood, etc.) through the process of SCB pyrolysis. As an example, in the region of North Queensland, one selected and readily available source of biomass is sugarcane bagasse (SCB) and the biochar produced from this biomass has a high adsorption coefficient. The final product (biochar + nutrients) can be used as a fertiliser.

Using biochar produced from SCB pyrolysis solves the problem of biomass waste, nutrient run-off and creates a slow-release fertiliser. Biochar is characterised by high porosity and carbon content, which makes it a good soil ameliorate. Besides, the direct environmental benefits of biochar, the gas fraction produced from pyrolysis can be used as energy production.

Further Details

Antunes, Elsa, et al. “Biochar produced from biosolids using a single-mode microwave: Characterisation and its potential for phosphorus removal.” JEMA 196 (2017): 119-126.

Antunes, Elsa, et al. “Isotherms, kinetics and mechanism analysis of phosphorus recovery from aqueous solution by calcium-rich biochar produced from biosolids via microwave pyrolysis.” JECE 6.1 (2018): 395-403.

  • Nutrient recovery with zero environmental impact
  • Production of slow-release fertiliser
  • Mitigate environmental impact of nutrient run-off in the Great Barrier Reef

This concept of nutrient recovery using biochar has important applications, including:

  • Wastewater Treatment Plants
  • Agriculture
  • Food industry

JCU has the expertise and facilities to produce biochar and test (batch or continuous mode) nutrient recovery. Currently seeking industry partners to explore this research area for their specific applications.


  • Commercial partner
  • Development partner
  • Copyright
  • Know-how based