Phosphate poses one of Florida’s ongoing water-quality challenges. A process developed by University of Florida researchers using partially burned organic matter called biochar could provide an affordable solution, however. The process also yields methane gas usable as fuel and phosphate-laden carbon suitable for enriching soil.
Phosphate is used to make fertilizers, pesticides, and detergents. Florida produces about one-quarter of the world’s phosphate, and its surface waters sometimes contain large amounts. Because the chemical can spur algae growth, it has caused water-quality concerns in some communities. Some water treatment plants filter phosphate from wastewater, but existing methods have drawbacks such as high cost, low efficiency, and hazardous byproducts.