Recovery of humic acids from anaerobic sewage sludge: Extraction, characterization and encapsulation in alginate beads

Giulio Cristina, Enrico Camelin, Carminna Ottone, Silvia Fraterrigo Garofalo, Lorena Jorquera, Mónica Castro, Debora Fino, María Cristina Schiappacasse, Tonia Tommasi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Wastewater production is rising all over the world and one of the most difficult problems is the disposal of sewage sludge (SS). It is known that SS contains certain quantities of added-value compounds, such as humic acids (HA) which in turn have beneficial effects on soil quality and plant growth. On the other hand, SS can retain many pollutants, such as heavy metals. The present work aimed to implement an HA alkaline extraction protocol from anaerobic sewage sludge (ASS). Subsequently, the HA were quantified in ASS, in HA extract and in commercial HA, used as a benchmark, which gave results of 12.53%, 26.87% and 77.87% (on dry matter basis), respectively. FESEM and EDX analyses on lyophilized HA extract confirmed that no heavy metals had passed into the extract. Afterwards, in order to allow controlled release of the HA in soils, alginate beads containing the HA extract were created. Finally, a pot experiment in a greenhouse was performed using Chilean lettuce plants (Lactuca sativa L.) treated with alginate-HA extract beads. At the end of the greenhouse experiments, the hypogean dry biomass of the treated plants was significantly higher than for non-treated plants. The relevance of this study relies not only on the exploitation of green chemistry principles, by converting a waste stream into a high-value product, but also on the application of an approach following a circular economy model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-285
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Biological Macromolecules
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Circular economy
  • Greenhouse experiment
  • Humic acids extraction


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