He has solid experience of phosphorus recovery – and is passionate about implementation of the circular economy. Christian Kabbe is CEO of EasyMining in Germany and thus plays an important role for phosphorus recovery from incinerated sewage sludge in the country, for which the company has a unique patented technology.
After Switzerland, Germany is the second country in the world to have legislated to recover phosphorus from sewage sludge and sludge ashes. After a transitional period of 12 to 15 years, all sewage works connected to more than 50,000 households need to incinerate sewage sludge so that the phosphorus, which is a so-called critical raw material, can be effectively recovered. With more than 1.7 million tons (dry solids) per year, Germany is one of the largest producers of sewage sludge in Europe providing a major potential for phosphorus recovery if mono-incinerated. The Sweden-based innovation company EasyMining’s patented technology for phosphorus recovery from incinerated sewage sludge is important for the German market. A branch has consequently been set up in Berlin, where Christian Kabbe is CEO.
”As the German market is the largest in Europe when it comes to phosphorus recovery from sewage sludge ash, we have opened a branch in the country. EasyMining has a portfolio with a number of unique patented technologies which do not just include the recovery of phosphorus, but also contribute sustainable value chains for the material. The Ash2Phos technology, for example, has a recovery efficiency of 90 per cent and it could enable us to recover potentially more than40,000 tonnes of P in the form of pure, marketable phosphates. That’s about half the phosphorus sold annually in Germany in mineral fertilisers,” Christian Kabbe says.
Long experience of phosphorus recovery
Christian has solid experience within environmental and analytical chemistry, receiving his PhD in 2003. After his university studies and a period in the chemical industry, he was employed at the German EPA (Umweltbundesamt), where he started working on phosphorus recovery and recycling.
”I was involved in the development of phosphorus recovery and sewage sludge processing in the first German programme for resource efficiency (ProgRess) and the preparation of a strategy for German phosphorus recovery and recycling. I was also involved in various financing projects to support environmental innovation within the field of sewage processing and resource efficiency.
Wanted to create a real effect
After three years at Umweltbundesamt, Christian started at the Berlin Centre of Competence for Water, where he continued to work within energy- and resource-efficient sewage purification and resource recovery of phosphorus in several national and international EU projects.
”After that, I followed my ambition to utilise the results derived from research and development and to create real impact through bridging the gap between R&D and Application (innovation) and started at an international technology consulting company, Isle Utilities. There I started collaborating with EasyMining and in January 2019 I started to work in the company.”
The work facilitates the circular economy
In his role as CEO of EasyMining in Germany, Christian is engaged in business development and in finding collaborations with businesses which can use the company’s unique technologies for phosphorus recovery and the pure detoxified materials they will provide.
”EasyMining’s technology ensures phosphorus recovery that is energy- and resource-efficient and which produces actual detoxification and simultaneously enables nutrients to be recovered. This type of phosphorus recovery will contribute to an improvement to the existing value chain. I am really looking forward to the coming years; working in a good team at a company whose work facilitates the circular economy.
Think forward, act circular!
It started with a mistake which in actual fact turned out to be a completely new way of recovering phosphorus from ash and sewage sludge. When Yariv Cohen, now research and development manager at EasyMining, was doing his doctorate in phosphorus recovery, he came to the lab one morning to find the system clogged up with crystals. They turned out to be pure phosphorus crystals, and the discovery is the basis for EasyMining’s first, pioneering Clean-MAP patent.
Yariv Cohen’s PhD is in phosphorus recovery from ash and sewage sludge from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU, in Uppsala. On one occasion, he was conducting tests to dissolve phosphorus and had set up equipment for it in the lab. When he arrived in the morning, the system had become clogged up with white crystals.
”First I thought that there had been a mistake, but I then started to analyse the crystals and discovered that it was pure phosphorus crystals. That ”mistake” got us to rethink, and we put a lot of work into understanding what had happened and utilising the knowledge to design a new system,” Yariv says.
Resulted in pioneering patent
When Yariv was doing his PhD at SLU in 2002, his supervisor put him in contact with Patrik Enfält, who at that time was working on innovation development and supporting researchers in the commercialisation process. They started to collaborate on Yariv’s discovery, which eventually resulted in the Clean-MAP patent.
”When the first Clean-MAP innovation arrived in 2006, it was a completely new way to produce a pure, recovered phosphorus fertiliser in an energy efficient way. Ammonium phosphate, which is the phosphorus fertiliser with the highest global production, is manufactured in the process,” Patrik says.
Innovations important for the circular economy
Marketing the process was a natural step, and in 2007 EasyMining was established by Patrik and Yariv, among others. Ragn-Sells entered as financier in 2010, and in 2014 the recycling company acquired the entire business, which has subsequently grown. The base is still in Uppsala where EasyMining has its laboratory as well as a pilot plant. The company also has operations in Gothenburg.
”Our work entails developing expertise to be able to take new innovations from the lab to full-scale production. We can apply that knowledge to several different materials, and we have a clear focus on waste. EasyMining’s advanced technology can extract important materials from waste, which produces major opportunities in the transition to a circular economy,” Yariv says.
Working on new projects
Besides Clean-MAP, EasyMining has several other patents. Ash2Phos is a separation technology which consists of a number of patents that recover phosphorus and metals from ash. In Ash2Salt, fly ash is washed so that three different salts are extracted and become commercial products. In Project N, nitrogen is extracted from waste water through a chemical method and becomes fertiliser.
”We are continually working on new ideas and have several pilot studies, which we hope will become new projects. In the idea process, we start with a desk analysis which, if it is viable, becomes an expanded idea study. We then test chemically whether it works before finding lab funding and in due course upscaling,” Patrik says.
The swedish circularity company EasyMining (part of the Ragn-Sells Group) has been invited to participate at the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid. At the conference, EasyMining will highlight the need to bring valuable resources, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and rare metals, back into the loop.
“We will illustrate how EasyMining extracts key nutrients such as nitrogen and potassium from what today is classified as waste, using circular methods that reduce climate impact”, says EasyMinings CEO Jan Svärd.