Wastewater Membranes Europe

Finnish start-up addresses wastewater’s ‘missed opportunity’

Monday, 6 May 2024

A Finnish start-up will take its Nutrient Catcher hardware to the market following a successful funding round. The hardware will address what it calls ‘a missed opportunity’ in wastewater by separating and collecting excess nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous. 

How does the Nutrient Catcher work?

NPHarvest is a spin-off from Finland’s Aalto University and is led by CEO and founder Juho Uzkurt Kaljunen. The company’s hardware solution allows the separation and collection of up to 90 per cent of excess nutrients in concentrated wastewater. 

Nutrient Catcher uses a patented membrane system to capture and recover nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewaters. It can tolerate ‘high suspended solids concentrations without disturbing the recovery process’. 

Kaljunen told Aquatech Online: “Our process is hydrophobic membrane stripping, so the membranes reject water (and water-bound particles and soluble material) but let gases pass. Ammonia is in gaseous form and thus travels through the membrane wall.”

The process is designed to be modular, which means it can be added to a client’s technical operations without disturbance. 

Our process is hydrophobic membrane stripping, so the membranes reject water but let gases pass.

This ‘plug and play’ system is designed to make any scaling up process as simple as possible, according to the company.

“Scaling up works by adding more units,” added Kaljunen. “The membrane contactor units can operate either in parallel or series, which makes more sense for the client.”

NPHarvest claims that its system has the lowest operating costs in the industry, as it operates at “ambient temperatures and doesn’t require heating or high pressure”, which the company says results in 80 per cent less energy consumption than other technologies.

“We have conducted several field scale tests with 2 m3/day processing capacity equipment during the academic research phase and the data is published in scientific journals,” added Kaljunen, with the modular scaling increasing this potential to 20000 m3/day or higher.

The company now has plans to rent its equipment to clients to demonstrate its potential as an investment.

A successful funding round for the move to market

NPHarvest raised €2.2 million to help it take its proprietary wastewater treatment solution to market. The company will use the funding to build hardware that is ready to be installed in a client’s facilities.

The round consisted of a €1.3 million equity investment led by Nordic Foodtech VC, with participation from Stephen Industries and Maa ja vesitekniikan tuki, and a €900,000 grant from the Finnish Ministry of the Environment.

Writing on the companies LinkedIn page, Mika Kukkurainen, partner at Nordic Foodtech VC, said: “We were impressed by the technology that allows nutrient harvesting at commercial level. It is something no one has done before. Ensuring food security while protecting the environment is our top priority when investing in the food system.”

Collecting nutrients to sell as a fertiliser

The ambition is for the nutrients to be sold to the fertiliser industry, becoming a revenue stream for the businesses that buy the hardware.

The company sees wastewater management plants, biogas plants, and livestock farms, as its main clients.

“Our process is much more energy and cost-efficient and easier to operate than the current solutions,” said Kaljunen. 

“Our end product is ammonia salt, which is commonly used in the fertiliser industry. We are very excited about bringing this technology to the market after years of research and development, bringing sustainable and affordable recycled nutrients and fertilisers to the market.”

What are the dangers of releasing excess nutrients into the environment?

When nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater end up in the environment, they can cause pollution. When this enters bodies of water, such as lakes and seas, these nutrients can cause an increase in microorganisms, plants, and algae, depleting oxygen levels (eutrophication), which can be fatal for animal life.