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.

University of Iowa hosts international conference about environmental contamination

Nick Fetty | August 19, 2014
Water pollution in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)
Water contamination in China. (Bert van Dijk/Flickr)

Beginning today and continuing through Friday, the University of Iowa is hosting a conference to discuss emerging contaminants and their effect on the environment.

EmCon 2014: Fourth International Conference on Occurrence, Fate, Effects & Analysis of Emerging Contaminants in the Environment will feature speakers from all across the world, including a keynote speech from University of Iowa engineering professor and CGRER co-director Jerry Schnoor. Representatives from various Big Ten schools (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin) as well as Iowa State, Stanford and several other educational and governmental entities are scheduled to give speeches or other presentations. The event “will focus on the most recent developments and findings concerning the source, occurrence, fate, effects, and analysis of emerging contaminants in the environment, providing an ideal venue for exchange of cutting-edge ideas and information in this rapidly evolving research area.”

The first conference, EmCon 2007, was held in York, United Kingdom and brought in more than 100 attendees from all around the world. EmCon 2009 was in Fort Collins, Colorado and EmCon 2011 was in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The National Hydraulic Engineering Conference 2014 is also taking place in Iowa City this week. This event will focus on “sustainability in the design of infrastructure in a rapidly changing environment.”

EmCon 2014 begins at 4 p.m. today and the full schedule of events is available here.

University of Michigan wins 2014 American Solar Challenge, Iowa State University finishes 3rd

Nick Fetty | July 29, 2014
The University of Michigan took first place at the 2014 American Solar Challenge which ended Tuesday. Photo by Ali Eminov; Flickr
The University of Michigan took first place at the 2014 American Solar Challenge.
Photo by Ali Eminov; Flickr

For the fifth-straight year, the University of Michigan took first place at the American Solar Challenge which concluded Monday.

Michigan’s race team – which included roughly 20 students – overcame its fair share of setbacks including various mechanical problems earlier in the summer as well as acceleration issues at the start of the race. The Wolverines persevered though and finished just 10 minutes ahead of Big Ten rival Minnesota to take the gold. Team PrISUm from Iowa State University finished third. The Cyclone team was briefly slowed down after being pulled over by law enforcement while driving through Wisconsin.

The eight-day race – which went from Austin, Texas to Minneapolis this year – gives engineering students from across the country the opportunity to design, build, and race a solar-powered car. The first American Solar Challenge was in 1990 and has occurred every other year since with some irregularity. This year’s event featured teams from 22 different universities including representation from countries as far away as Germany, Iran, and Taiwan.