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Phosphorous, being one of the fundamental building blocks of life, has been linked with the increase of cyanobacteria and algae growth. One of the main ways that phosphorous enters the marine ecosystem is through the form of runoff phosphates from fertilizers and industrial processes. In addition to disrupting the biology of ecosystems another drawback of excess of phosphates is the tendency for these chemical groups to form scale buildup on metal through the form of calcium phosphate.

The goal of our project is to investigate a novel way of removing phosphate groups from wastewater with the use of the rare earth element cerium. Current methods that remove phosphates use iron and aluminum salts to react with the phosphate, creating crystalline complexes that can be filtered out as a precipitate. Our team hopes to evaluate a similar precipitation reaction with phosphate and cerium and evaluate the optimal parameter that promote the desired reaction. The main benefit of this reaction is that its crystals are exponentially smaller than the ones produced by the traditional phosphate removal processes (indicating that this novel method might be more efficient than the traditional methods).

The main challenge of this project is to properly characterize the produced cerium phosphate crystals and design an industry-scale filtration process that would remove these crystals effectively. This analysis will be completed with the use of analytical chemistry techniques, nano-characterization equipment and process engineering design work. The filtration system design process will focus on optimizing produced crystalline complexes and then collecting and removing them effectively for large quantities of water. This project is being conducted with the support of ChemTreat, and with this partnership we hope to compare this new cerium based phosphate removal method with the current ferric-aluminum based methods. The results of this comparison could lead to the development of an entirely new and more effective method of removing phosphate from wastewater.

Publication Date



chemical and life science engineering, wastewater


Chemical Engineering | Engineering

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

B. Frank Gupton

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Rudy Krack

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Ben Ward

VCU Capstone Design Expo Posters


© The Author(s)

Date of Submission

July 2015

The optimization and comparison of a cerium salt-based phosphate filtration system to industry standard phosphate removal water filtration systems