Fate of pharmaceuticals and PFASs during the electrochemical generation of a nitrogen-rich nutrient product from real reject water

Veera Koskue, Juliette Monetti, Natascha Rossi, Ludwika Nieradzik, Stefano Freguia, Marika Kokko, Pablo Ledezma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Recycling vital macronutrients, such as nitrogen, from wastewaters back to fertiliser use is becoming essential to ensure sustainable agricultural practices. Technologies developed for such purposes are typically evaluated for their capacity to recover nutrients; however, the presence of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in these waste-derived nutrient products must not be overlooked. In this study, nitrogen was recovered from real anaerobically digested municipal sewage sludge reject water using a novel set-up combining membrane-based electroconcentration (EC) with electrochemical advanced oxidation processes (EAOPs). Simultaneously, the fate of five spiked pharmaceuticals (carbamazepine, ciprofloxacin, diclofenac, erythromycin and metoprolol) as well as ten indigenous perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) was investigated. The EC-EAOP system was effective in up-concentrating nitrogen ca. 13 times to a final concentration of 12.7 ± 0.8 g L−1 in the nutrient product. At the same time, no up-concentration was observed for the pharmaceuticals and their concentrations in the recovered concentrated remained at ≤ 3.4 ± 1.3 µg L−1. The EAOPs were the main transformation mechanism for all the pharmaceuticals at 33–88% efficiency, while diclofenac also notably adsorbed in the system (30 ± 1.4%). Out of the ten studied PFASs, only three were found in the recovered nutrient concentrate, albeit at very limited concentrations of ≤ 0.024 ± 0.013 µg L−1. The EAOPs were found to degrade longer-chain PFASs into their shorter-chain counterparts. The low contaminant concentrations in the nutrient product pose a reduced risk for soil contamination compared to, e.g., biosolids that are more typically used as fertilisers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107284
JournalJournal of Environmental Chemical Engineering
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Contaminants of emerging concern
  • Electrochemical advanced oxidation
  • Nutrient recovery
  • Perfluoroalkyl substances
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Reject water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Process Chemistry and Technology


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