Untapping the water management market: Finnish start-up raises €2.2m to recycle nutrients from wastewater

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

‘We are making nutrient catching a profitable business’, claims  NPHarvest CEO and founder Juho Uzkurt Kaljunen
‘We are making nutrient catching a profitable business’, claims NPHarvest CEO and founder Juho Uzkurt Kaljunen

Related tags water fertiliser ammonia

NPHarvest, a spin-off from Aalto University in Finland, has raised €2.2 million to bring its proprietary nutrient catcher machine to market. The hardware is the first of its kind, making it possible to catch nutrients on a real commercial level, the company claims.

Nutrient fertilisers are vital for securing food production. But we know that excessive amounts can end up in the environment via wastewater or through nutrient leaching from agricultural areas. Both cause pollution of the ground and eutrophication in seas and lakes, which in turn causes overgrowth of algae and weeds, depleting oxygen and killing animal life. Wastewater is also responsible for around five percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

NPHarvest has developed a novel and soon patented hardware solution for collection and recycling of nutrients from wastewater.

The wastewater treatment equipment is able to separate and collect all excess nutrients from concentrated wastewaters, which can then be recycled and sold back to the fertiliser industry, making businesses more profitable, mitigating eutrophication, and enhancing local food security.

The round was led by Nordic Foodtech VC, with participation from Stephen Industries and Maa- ja vesitekniikan tuki ry (a non-profit organization in Finland that supports the development and innovation in the field of land and water engineering). The round consists of a €1.3m equity investment and a €900,000 grant from the Finnish Ministry of the Environment.

With the new funding, NPHarvest says it will build the first commercially ready Nutrient Catcher, ready to be installed in clients’ facilities. Thanks to the process’ modular design, the Nutrient Catcher can scale to different use cases and fit different facilities while keeping the production costs as low as possible.

“Our process is much more energy and cost-efficient and easier to operate than the current solutions. Our end product is ammonia salt, which is commonly used in the fertiliser industry,” said Juho Uzkurt Kaljunen, CEO and founder of NPHarvest. “We are very excited about bringing this technology to the market after years of research and development, bringing sustainable and affordable recycled nutrients and fertilisers to the market.”

Why is losing valuable nutrients in wastewater such a missed opportunity?

Losing valuable nutrients in wastewater is a missed opportunity for the whole agricultural ecosystem, the company believes. Fertiliser prices are volatile and they need to be imported from abroad, decreasing self-sufficiency. The inability to remove excess nutrients from the ecosystem will also gradually lead to soil contamination, the company claims. It argues that farmers prefer using fossil-based mineral fertilisers or nutrient-rich manure. However, too much nutrients might actually result in nutrient deficiencies in plants.

NPHarvest’s hardware can catch up to 90% of the excess from wastewater. But nutrients are still valuable Once the technology has separated the nutrients, they can be taken back to the fertiliser companies. NPHarvest’s process also uses very little energy, as it doesn’t require heating or pressure increase, reducing the costs of the process even further.

“No one has done nutrient catching on a real commercial level, which made us as foodtech investors impressed with NPHarvest and its unique technology,” said Mika Kukkurainen, partner at Nordic Foodtech VC. “Ensuring food security while protecting the environment is one of the top priorities in the food system. NPHarvest´s technology has what it takes to combine these aspects in a very interesting business model.”

NPHarvest has two patents pending and is gearing up towards building its first products, ready to be installed at wastewater management facilities. Their main customers are wastewater management plants, biogas plants, and livestock farms that are trying to cut their costs, reduce their carbon footprint, or earn extra income from recycled fertiliser sales.

Antti Myllärinen CEO of Doranova Oy, a Finnish environmental technology company that specialises in biogas production and soil and groundwater remediation, said: "Nutrient recovery stands as a critical component within the biogas industry, yet frequently encounters bottlenecks during the processing of wastewater treatment plant sludges or organic fraction of municipal solid waste. The innovative methodology of NPHarvest presents a tangible opportunity to surmount these challenges effectively."

Hamse Kjerstadius, Development Engineer of Swedish NSVA, Northwest Skåne Water and Wastewater, added: “As a public water utility, NSVA needs to pursue climate neutrality to benefit the municipalities we work for. NPHarvest’s technology for nitrogen and phosphorus recovery has the potential to allow increased nutrient recovery from wastewater, which is a promising method that can aid our municipalities in reaching reduced climate impacts.”

NPHarvest believes the entire water management market in Europe is estimated to be worth around 170 billion euros, and the concentrated water management market in the EU approximately 47 billion euros. “We are excited to enter the next stage of our company’s journey together with our investors, enhancing food security, creating better environmental impacts, and making wastewater management and nutrient catching a profitable business,” concluded Kaljunen.

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