GROUND-BREAKING research to remove phosphorus compounds from waste water is being carried out at a Southern Water treatment plant in Petersfield in co-operation with academics from the University of Portsmouth.

Southern Water spends £5m a year on research and development sponsoring PhD students, conducting experiments, and developing and testing new technologies and techniques.

Saskia Benzig, a Portsmouth University PhD candidate working at the Petersfield Innovation Hub, is examining how different types of absorptive material might be used to remove phosphorus from wastewater- an increasing problem and the subject of stringent targets by the Environment Agency.

“Phosphorus is really good at making things grow, which is why a fifth of the phosphorus entering the water cycle comes from fertiliser run off,” said Rebecca Kennedy, research and development planner at Southern Water, “but that includes making algae bloom in rivers and streams and that can have a serious impact on the other living things trying to share an eco-system with algae - in other words fish die.”

Phosphorus compounds are also in food but the human body excretes most of it. Shampoos and conditioners, dishwasher and washing machine detergents frequently contain phosphorus.

Existing solutions involve adding chemicals to wastewater and the systems involved can only generally be used at large treatment plants.

The techniques under development by scientists working with Southern Water are being developed to be used at even the smallest rural treatment centres.