Marcel Mulder prize for electrochemical phosphate recovery

Published on
November 23, 2019

During the Wetsus Congress from last October, the Marcel Mulder Prize was awarded to PhD researcher Yang Lei. This annual prize of € 5000,00 is awarded to the Wetsus scientist that made the most exceptional performance in the field of water technology in the past year. Lei is working at ETE and performs his research in the Resource Recovery theme at Wetsus.

Patented technology

‘I think I won this prize because, together with my colleagues, I developed an electrochemical based technology for phosphate recovery from waste streams’, Yang says. ‘The technology is now patented and could provide a good solution for waste streams to recover phosphate.’ Phosphate recovery is increasingly important, because natural reserves are expected to run out within a few hundred years.


The beauty of the novel technology lies in its simplicity. An electrical current applied in the wastewater generates hydroxide ions (OH-)
at the cathode. This results in a locally elevated pH. As a result, calcium and phosphate ions, already present in wastewater, form calcium phosphate that precipitates at the cathode. These can easily be harvested. Yang: ‘The advantages are multiple: we make use of the coexisted calcium ions to precipitate phosphate, we don't need to adjust the pH before and after treatment and we don't need a liquid-solid separation process to separate the precipitates from the wastewater.’

High ranking journals

Yang published already 10 papers on his technology, all in high-ranking journals. But despite his achievements, the scientist remains modest: ‘I did not do all the work by myself. My supervision team and master students contributed a lot to the development of this technology.’

The prize is financially supported by Vitens, the Province of Friesland, Patent office Arnold and Sytsma, the North Netherlands Watercycle Authorities and Wetsus.

Selected publication

Lei Y., Santosh N., Saakes M., van der Weijden R.D., and Buisman C.J.N. 2019. Calcium carbonate packed electrochemical precipitation column: New concept of phosphate removal and recovery. Environ. Sci.& Technol. 53, 10774-10780.