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Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering

Front. Environ. Sci. Eng.    2020, Vol. 14 Issue (5) : 90
Emerging electrochemical processes for materials recovery from wastewater: Mechanisms and prospects
Lingchen Kong, Xitong Liu()
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, The George Washington University, 800 22nd St NW, Washington, DC 20052, USA
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• Mechanisms for selective recovery of materials in electrochemical processes are discussed.

• Wastewaters that contain recoverable materials are reviewed.

• Application prospects are discussed from both technical and non-technical aspects.

Recovering valuable materials from waste streams is critical to the transition to a circular economy with reduced environmental damages caused by resource extraction activities. Municipal and industrial wastewaters contain a variety of materials, such as nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), lithium, and rare earth elements, which can be recovered as value-added products. Owing to their modularity, convenient operation and control, and the non-requirement of chemical dosage, electrochemical technologies offer a great promise for resource recovery in small-scale, decentralized systems. Here, we review three emerging electrochemical technologies for materials recovery applications: electrosorption based on carbonaceous and intercalation electrodes, electrochemical redox processes, and electrochemically induced precipitation. We highlight the mechanisms for achieving selective materials recovery in these processes. We also present an overview of the advantages and limitations of these technologies, as well as the key challenges that need to be overcome for their deployment in real-world systems to achieve cost-effective and sustainable materials recovery.

Keywords Materials recovery      Electrosorption      Capacitive deionization      Redox processes      Electrochemical precipitation     
This article is part of themed collection: Accounts of Aquatic Chemistry and Technology Research (Responsible Editors: Jinyong Liu, Haoran Wei & Yin Wang)
Corresponding Author(s): Xitong Liu   
Issue Date: 10 September 2020
 Cite this article:   
Lingchen Kong,Xitong Liu. Emerging electrochemical processes for materials recovery from wastewater: Mechanisms and prospects[J]. Front. Environ. Sci. Eng., 2020, 14(5): 90.
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Xitong Liu
Fig.1  Schematic of different materials recovery mechanisms: (a) ammonium recovery by flow-electrode CDI (FCDI), (b) lithium recovery by intercalation electrode lithium manganese oxide, (c) bromine recovery from bromide by redox reaction, and (d) phosphorus recovery by electrochemically induced precipitation of calcium phosphate.
Ions Diffusion coefficient (m2/s)a JCn+ JNa+ Approximate separation factor in strong acid cation exchange resin (relative to Na+)b Jm,C n+ J m,Na+
NH4+ 1.95 × 109 1.5 1.3 2.0
Ca2+ 7.92 × 1010 1.2 1.9 2.3
Mg2+ 7.06 × 1010 1.1 1.7 1.8
Na+ 1.33 × 109 1.0 1.0 1.0
Tab.1  Estimated theoretical ratio of cation electromigration rates in CDI and MCDI systems (calculations are based on equal concentration of ions)
Fig.2  (a) Schematic of ammonia recovery in the CapAmm system assisted by hollow-fiber gas-permeable membrane. Reprinted with permission from (Zhang et al., 2017). Copyright 2017 American Chemical Society. (b) Mechanisms of the selective ammonia recovery. Reprinted with permission from (Zhang et al., 2019). Copyright 2019 American Chemical Society. (c) Selective ammonium removal using two copper hexacyanoferrate (CuHCF) battery electrodes. Reprinted with permission from (Kim et al., 2018b). Copyright 2018 American Chemical Society.
Ions Diffusion coefficient (m2/s)a) JAn J Cl Approximate separation factor in strong base anion exchange resin (relative to Cl?)b) Jm,A n J m,C l
NO3 1.90 × 109 0.9 3.2 2.9
H2PO4 8.79 × 1010 0.4 NAc NA
HPO42 4.39 × 1010 0.4 NA NA
SO42 1.06 × 109 1.0 9.1 9.1
Cl? 2.03 × 109 1.0 1.0 1.0
Tab.2  Estimated theoretical ratio of anion electromigration rates in CDI and MCDI systems (calculations are based on equal concentration of ions)
Fig.3  (a) Schematic of concurrent removal of N and P using FCDI. Reprinted with permission from (Bian et al., 2019). Copyright 2019 American Chemical Society. (b) Height and root length of the plants (left) and images of the plants and their roots (right) using actual fertilizer (1), recovered liquid fertilizers, (2) and Pb-contaminated wastewater (3). Reprinted with permission from (Yuan et al., 2020). Copyright 2020 Elsevier.
Fig.4  (a) Crystalline structure of spinel LiMn2O4. Reprinted with permission from (Zhang et al., 2013). Copyright 2013 Elsevier. (b) Schematic of the electrostatic-assisted recovery of lithium ions. (i) graphite current collector, (ii) selective lithium adsorbent electrode, (iii) anion exchange membrane, and (iv) activated carbon electrode. Reprinted with permission from (Ryu et al., 2013). Copyright 2013 American Chemical Society.
Fig.5  (a) The Faradaic reactions occurring at the surface of the electrodes for Cr(VI) removal. Reprinted with permission from (Su et al., 2018). Copyright 2018 Springer Nature. (b) Schematic of the redox reaction for bromine recovery by selective electrolysis from brines. Reprinted with permission from (Sun et al., 2013). Copyright 2013 from Elsevier.
Fig.6  (a) Electrochemical deposition of REE oxides via formation of metal hydroxide intermediates, Reprinted with permission from (O’Connor et al., 2018). Copyright 2018 The Royal Society of Chemistry. (b) Magnesium as a sacrificial electrode for struvite precipitation, Reprinted with permission from (Hug and Udert, 2013). Copyright 2013 Elsevier. (c) Electrochemically induced calcium phosphate precipitation. Reprinted with permission from (Lei et al., 2017). Copyright 2017 American Chemical Society.
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