World’s Largest Nutrient Recovery Facility Produces Valuable, Environmentally Friendly Fertilizer | Black & Veatch

Improving Waterways From Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico

World’s Largest Nutrient Recovery Facility Produces Valuable, Environmentally Friendly Fertilizer

Project Name
Phosphorus Recovery System at Stickney Water Reclamation Plant
Cicero, Illinois
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

The largest ocean hypoxic area, or dead zone, currently affecting the United States occurs in the northern Gulf of Mexico, adjacent to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The dead zone, roughly the size of Connecticut, forms along the Louisiana and Texas coastlines each summer. It’s caused by agricultural runoff that is loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as a number of other sources, such as urban wastewater treatment facilities.

Phosphorus washes into the Mississippi River and eventually into the Gulf. Excess phosphorus in waterways can cause algae to grow and bloom, eating up oxygen and creating toxic conditions that threaten aquatic life in lakes, rivers and even the ocean.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has taken a lead in dealing with this problem by transitioning its Stickney Water Reclamation Plant (WRP), the largest wastewater treatment facility of its kind in the world, into a water resource recovery facility.

Black & Veatch designed and built the world’s largest nutrient recovery facility at the Stickney WRP. The plant is providing an environmentally progressive solution to support the larger goal of reducing Gulf hypoxia.

“We used Black & Veatch’s expertise in phosphorus treatment, as well as process modeling, to optimize the sizing of the phosphorus recovery facility and achieve our goal for efficiency.”

Glenn Rohloff​, Supervising Civil Engineer, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

Innovation in Nutrient Recovery

The recovery facility is reducing nutrient loads to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, Des Plaines River, Illinois River and downstream in the Mississippi River to help address the problem in the Gulf. It also enables the recovery of phosphorus and nitrogen waste streams, which are converted into a new generation of slow-release fertilizers.

Selling the finished product as a commercial fertilizer helps close the nutrient loop in another way. When it’s placed on agricultural fields, excess phosphorus not taken up by plants does not immediately run off into adjacent waterways when it rains, as is the case with many commercial fertilizers.

“Black & Veatch partnered with us to do the design and construction of this innovative phosphorus recovery facility, and we’re really pleased to be part of the collaboration."

Mariyana Spyropoulos, President of the Board of Commissioners, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago installed three Ostara Pearl® 10000 reactors in the Stickney nutrient recovery facility. The Pearl phosphorus recovery system can recover more than 85 percent of the phosphorus and up to 15 percent of the nitrogen from wastewater streams.

The facility has a production capacity of up to 10,000 tons of a high-value, continuous-release fertilizer.


Through its Project Excellence Awards, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) pays tribute to excellence and innovation in the execution of projects and programs in the water sector. In 2017, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago’s Nutrient Recovery Facility at the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant was named one of three WEF Project Excellence Award recipients.


Technologies for Phosphorus and Nutrient Recovery and Management

Nutrient management at many water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs) can be efficiently achieved through the use of technologies that focus on the recovery and beneficial use of nutrients. This webinar will provide an overview and comparison of the various technologies – some reasonably well-established, and some emerging – and discuss key considerations in the application of these technologies at WRRFs.

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