UMichigan study examines potential for urine as fertilizer

A recent study at the University of Michigan examines the potential of using human urine to fertilize food crops. (Twitter/Michigan Engineering)
Researchers at the University of Michigan set up porta-potties on campus Wednesday to collect urine samples for fertilizer research. (Twitter/Michigan Engineering)

Nick Fetty | April 2, 2015

Researchers at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering are studying whether human urine can be disinfected and then used to fertilize food crops.

The researchers set up two porta-potties on campus Wednesday and were able to collect samples from more than 200 individuals. The study is focusing on urine because of its abundance as well as its nitrogen and phosphorus content. The researchers hope to use the urine to create a solid fertilizer product known as “struvite.” Not only can the urine be beneficial for plant growth but removing it from sewage waste streams has other benefits such as: (1) reducing nutrients in waterways, (2) streamlining wastewater treatment, (3) tackling the issue of pharmaceutical contamination, and (4) lessening the need to make synthetic fertilizers.

“These nutrients often remain in the effluent that wastewater treatment plants discharge back into rivers. In waterways, nutrient pollution can lead to algal blooms and dead zones where fish can’t survive,” the press release said. “They can also produce toxins that could taint drinking water. Beyond nutrients, urine carries most of the excess pharmaceuticals that our bodies don’t use when we take medications.”

The study is funded with a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is part of the country’s first “large-scale pilot project” for recycling urine. The University of Michigan is working with four other institutions on the project including the Rich Earth Institute in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Read more about the Toilet To Table project.

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