Biogenic iron oxides for phosphate removal

Raimonda Buliauskaitė, Philipp Wilfert, Prashanth Suresh Kumar, Weren W.J.M. de Vet, Geert Jan Witkamp, Leon Korving*, Mark C.M. van Loosdrecht

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Biogenic iron oxides (BioFeO) formed by Leptothrix sp. and Gallionella sp. were compared with chemically formed iron oxides (ChFeO) for their suitability to remove and recover phosphate from solutions. The ChFeO used for comparison included a commercial iron-based adsorbent (GEH) and chemically oxidized iron precipitates from groundwater. Despite contrary observations in earlier studies, the batch experiments showed that BioFeO do not have superior phosphate adsorption capacities compared to ChFeO. However, it seems multiple mechanisms are involved in phosphate removal by BioFeO which make their overall phosphate removal capacity higher than that of ChFeO. The overall phosphate removal capacity of Leptothrix sp. deposits was 26.3 mg P/g d.s., which could be attributed to multiple mechanisms. This included adsorption on the solid phase (6.4 mg P/g d.s.) as well as removal via precipitation and/or adsorption onto suspended complexes released from the BioFeO of Leptothrix sp. (19.6 mg P/g d.s.). Only a very small part of phosphorus (0.3 mg P/g d.s.) was retained in the Leptothrix sp. sheats during bacterial growth. Deposits of Gallionella sp. had an overall phosphate removal capacity of 39.6 mg P/g d.s. Significant amounts of phosphate were apparently incorporated into the Gallionella sp. stalks during their growth (31.0 mg P/g d.s.) and only one-fifth of the total phosphate removal can be related to adsorption (8.6 mg P/g d.s.). Their overall ability to immobilize large quantities of phosphate from solutions indicates that BioFeO could play an important role in environmental and engineered systems for removal of contaminants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)260-266
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Technology (United Kingdom)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Wetsus is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, the European Regional Development Fund, the Province of Fryslân, the City of Leeuwarden and the EZ/Kompas program of the ‘‘Samenwerkingsverband NoordNederland”. This work was performed in the TTIW-cooperation framework of Wetsus, European Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology ( The authors thank the participants of the research theme ‘Phosphate Recovery’ for the fruitful discussions and their financial support. The authors would like to extend gratitude to the staff of Water Application Centre ( for their help.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © 2018 Wetsus. Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Gallionella
  • Leptothrix
  • Phosphate
  • adsorption
  • biogenic iron oxides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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