How H2Ohio Addresses Phosphorus Overloading

David Emerman, Chief Community Officer, Ohio EPA

After the 2014 Toledo water crisis, everyone seemed to have a new technology that was the solution to phosphorus-driven algae blooms in Ohio. Many sounded truly promising, and some, well … sounded like a bag of magic beans—but all were proprietary. In the wake of that crisis, a challenge Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), and Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) faced was how to evaluate and advance innovation of the most promising cutting-edge technologies, while remaining a prudent steward of public funds. Surmounting those challenges, the H2Ohio Technology Assessment Program (TAP) was born as a subset of Governor Mike DeWine’s larger H2Ohio water quality initiative.

H2Ohio is Governor DeWine’s comprehensive, data-driven water quality plan to reduce harmful algal blooms (HABs), improve wastewater infrastructure, and prevent lead contamination.

“We have a moral obligation to preserve and protect our natural resources,” DeWine said during a speech at the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo. “My H2Ohio plan is a dedicated, holistic water quality strategy with long-lasting solutions to address the causes of Ohio’s water problems, not just the symptoms.”

Gov. DeWine’s H2Ohio plan is an investment in water quality, including targeted solutions to reduce phosphorus runoff and prevent algal blooms through increased implementation of agricultural best practices and the creation of wetlands. It is also improving wastewater infrastructure, replacing failing home septic systems, and preventing lead contamination in high-risk daycare centers and schools.

HABs have been a concern in Lake Erie for decades, and the State of Ohio has a long history of developing solutions to address them. The goal of H2Ohio TAP is to facilitate demonstration projects of promising new technologies to address HABs. Since these technologies are cutting edge along multiple scientific disciplines, diverse expertise and perspectives is required to evaluate the efficacy and feasibility of these technologies. Because these technologies are proprietary, a third party—able to enter into non-disclosure agreements—is required to validate of claims.

Lead by Cleveland Water Alliance, Scotts Miracle-Gro, and Ohio EPA, a TAP Team was formed, charged with soliciting, scoring, and selecting technologies to advance to the in-depth third-party consultant review [1]. Forty-one technologies responded to the call for proposals, each vastly different in approach. Some proposed new methods to enhance manure, some proposed sophisticated chemical fertilizers, and some proposed directly harvesting algae from the water. The TAP Team’s broad experience and expertise guided the tough decision to narrow down a list of 10 technologies to advance.

TetraTech was hired as the third-party consultant and tasked with evaluating each technology for the following: conceptual model review, fatal flaw analysis, review of previous implementation, cost, scalability, information gaps, probability of success, and financial viability. The following is a summary of the technologies evaluated:

Automated drainage water management, submitted by Ecosystem Services Exchange, weatherproofs cropland fields by actively controlling water levels in soil to manage for optimal growing conditions in periods of too little to too much precipitation. When applied in a conservation systems approach, this serves to improve both the environmental performance of agriculture and farm economic viability in tile-drained landscapes.

QuickWash® Phosphorus Recovery,submitted by Applied Environmental Solutions, is a two-stage process that recovers phosphorus from wastewaters and liquid manures using acids and hydrated lime, and recovers nitrogen as an ammonium salt that results in a product that can be used as a fertilizer.

ClariPhos, submitted by Bishop Water Technologies, is an inorganic liquid coagulant that binds phosphorus in wastewaters and lagoons more efficiently than traditional chemical coagulants. This allows wastewater treatment plants to more effectively lower phosphorus in wastewater to ultra-low levels.

BioChelate™ Pro, submitted by Solugen Inc, is a bio-based and phosphorus-free high-performance cooling tower water treatment corrosion and scale product. This product provides industrial users and water treatment plants increased corrosion and scale control protection without the nutrient discharges associated with the traditional phosphonate-based corrosion treatment chemicals.

Hypernucleation Flotation Technology, submitted by AECOM Technical Services, Inc, is an advanced dissolved air flotation, liquid-solid separation technology that efficiently harvests algae, associated nutrients, and algal toxins from water.

Intermittent Baffled BioReactor, submitted by Frontier Environmental Technology, LLC, is a high efficiency, low maintenance technology designed for small flow wastewater treatment in decentralized communities that uses biological processes to remove organic pollutants.

Phoslock® Phosphorus Locking Technology, submitted by SePRO, is a phosphorus binding agent that inactivates excess phosphorus in water bodies through application to surface water as a dry clay or slurry, or by injecting it into sediment.

Electric Cell Lysis, submitted by Neundorfer, Inc.,utilizes precisely controlled, electrical pulses to break down liquid and organic wastes in manure lagoons. This allows livestock farmers to reduce nutrients, pathogens, and odor in land-applied manure, resulting in a more effective utilization of manure and allowing for a reduction in commercial fertilizer application.

Regen, submitted by Kurtz Bros., Inc, is a process for removing nutrients from biomass sources, such as manure lagoons, and converting them into stable commodity products that can be marketed and distributed throughout a watershed to provide an alternative nutrient source to synthetic fertilizers.

DG Struvite Fertilizer, submitted by The Andersons Plant Nutrient Group, is a high efficiency fertilizer in precisely engineered particle sizes that pairs with plant biochemistry to only release nutrients when crops are ready to absorb them.

In an effort lead by the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, Tetra Tech’s report was provided to the Ohio Water Development Authority and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), Great Lakes Program Office.

The Ohio Water Development Authority funded a demonstration of Hypernucleation Flotation Technology and Automated Drainage Water Management. U.S. EPA is providing Ohio EPA funding for demonstrations of DG Struvite Fertilizer, Electric Cell Lysis, Automated drainage water management, QuickWash® Phosphorus Recovery, and Regen. These multi-year, multi-million dollar projects are real-world farm scale application of technology designed to showcase value to target audiences.

For example, The Ohio State University is testing DG Struvite Fertilizer on farm fields with a corn and soybean rotation. In October 2023, DG Struvite was applied at full and half rates in stripes on a field in Northwest Ohio. Traditional fertilizer was applied by the same method with the same equipment. The Andersons claims—evaluated as part of this project—that DG Struvite is just as easy to apply as any other fertilizer and that it will achieve equivalent yields at a half rate application. At the same time, DG Struvite and traditional fertilizer are being applied to fields with water quality monitoring locations to validate the claim that when DG Struvite is applied, the phosphorous stays on the field.

QuickWash® Phosphorus Recovery and Regen are partnering to demonstrate the full value chain of enhancing hog manure and improving soil health. Applied Environmental Solutions is treating hog manure in Northwest Ohio to generate a high phosphorous dewatered “cake” and ammonium salt. Kurtz brothers will incorporate those products on an area farm to demonstrate the ease of application and improvement of soil health.

Ohio State is also working with Ecosystem Services Exchange to install automated drainage water management systems on 10 fields in Northwest Ohio. Five of the systems will be controlled remotely by the university and the other two by local producers. The goal is to demonstrate the ease of operation by local producers and the value of precise control. Nevertheless, seems like a pretty good contest in my eyes. Professors vs. producers: not sure it is safe to place a bet, but no matter who prevails, Ohio still wins.

Neundorfer, as the most recent to receive funding, is in the process of developing its project for Electric Cell Lysis. Ohio EPA is still searching for funding opportunities for the remaining technologies.

After the success and popularity of this program, Ohio EPA is evaluating what’s next for the TAP program: Larger scale implementation of these technologies? Another set nutrient focused technologies? Innovation addressing emerging contaminants? You can be sure of one thing: Ohio will continue leading on innovation, making our home the best place to live, work, and raise a family!

[1] The TAP Team comprised the following: Cleveland Water Alliance; Scotts Miracle-Gro; Ohio Farm Bureau; Moen; Xylem; Owens Corning; ProMedica; Alliance for the Great Lakes; The Nature Conservancy; Ohio Sea Grant; Ohio Lake Erie Commission; and Ohio Departments of Natural Resources; Agriculture; and Environmental Protect

David Emerman is Chief Community Officer for the Ohio Environmental Project Agency. His goal is to help families, communities, and businesses thrive through environmental protection and economic development.