Nitrogen, micronutrients and phosphorous — some of the elements making up human urine — are extremely useful in discussions concerning agriculture. So much so that University of Queensland (UQ) scientists are taking part in trials of a technology that attempts to recover and reuse those elements.
Commonly used in industrial fertilizers, nitrogen and phosphorous are typically manufactured through processes requiring significant amounts of energy. However, removing these same ingredients from human urine would be a low-energy alternative, which is what inspired the research team to develop the system.
The system, called UGold, is designed to recover nitrogen, phosphorous and micronutrients from urine deposited in a toilet. If the process is successful, the results, according to researchers, would benefit the environment, agriculture and the fertilizer industry, not to mention the fact that it would also create waterless toilets.
According to UQ Advanced Water Management Centre Associate Professor Dr. Stefano Freguia, “The UGold system could create a more sustainable source of nitrogen and phosphorus for fertilizer and also reduce the amount of energy required to treat sewage — a win for business and the environment.”
Queensland Urban Utilities spokesperson Michelle Cull said, “Removing nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater uses a huge amount of energy, so treating at the source could potentially save millions of dollars on electricity and infrastructure costs.”
Though the system still needs to undergo further trials, researchers are currently using materials recovered from UGold to fertilize one garden.