Tuesday 23 January 2018

This university is recycling urine to use as fertiliser

Abe Noe-Hays, director of research at the Vermont-based Rich Earth Institute describes the filtration system he helped develop to turn urine into fertilizer at the University of Michigan engineering building (Photo: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Abe Noe-Hays, director of research at the Vermont-based Rich Earth Institute describes the filtration system he helped develop to turn urine into fertilizer at the University of Michigan engineering building (Photo: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Mike Householder

A US university thinks there's more than a wee bit of value in urine - and wants to know if others do.

The Ann Arbor school at the University of Michigan has installed a toilet and urinal in a campus engineering building aiming to convert the fluid into fertilisers.

The split-bowl toilet is designed to send solid waste to a treatment plant, but route urine to a holding tank downstairs.

Urine diverted from the toilet and urinal will be treated and eventually used to create fertilisers that will be applied on the grounds of the university's botanical gardens.

Tuesday's opening of the facilities at the GG Brown building coincides with the launch of a survey to understand public opinion surrounding the technology.

Urine contributors will have the opportunity to register their thoughts on a tablet computer situated in the toilet.

"It's possible that when people are asked to contribute to a system where their urine is diverted and used as fertiliser they might feel a little queasy about this at first," Michigan engineering professor Krista Wigginton said after cutting a ceremonial ribbon outside the women's toilet.

"And so, a large part of this project is actually on the social science side, the education side", to understand whether people are willing to adopt it, she said.

The multi-state research effort is part of a €2.7m National Science Foundation-funded project billed as the country's largest programme examining the technological requirements and social attitudes related to urine-based fertilisers.

Michigan researchers, who are working with colleagues at the Vermont-based Rich Earth Institute and the University at Buffalo, say deriving fertiliser from nutrient-rich urine could save money and reduce pollution.

As for visitors to the side-by-side toilets in the GG Brown building, Prof Wigginton says they will not find anything out of the ordinary.

"I think the experience of using the toilet really isn't any different," she said.

"That's part of the goal here: We don't want to disrupt what people are used to.

"We tried to make it as normal as possible."

Press Association

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