Hi, my name’s Nicola Parfitt and I recently spent a wonderful week on Gotland interviewing farmers about their perceptions of human urine as a fertilizer. I did this as part of my master thesis in Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science at Lund University, which I can’t believe is already coming to an end in June.
I came into contact with this topic after Jenna Senecal, the CEO of Sanitation360 who recycles human urine and turns it into a fertilizer on Gotland, held a lecture as part of one of the courses I was taking. The potential of ecological sanitation and nutrient recycling to reduce eutrophication, contribute to circular farming and also provide decentralized toilets in countries where access to basic sanitation facilities is still low, made me fall in love with the concept. However, for the loop between sanitation and agriculture to be fully closed, farmers need to be willing to use the end product – and that’s how my thesis idea came about.
About a month ago now, Sanitation360 finally started this year’s field trials where barley is being grown and fertilized with human urine. In addition, this is an extra special year because we’re not only trialing our dry-fertilizer but liquid urine too (see top photo)! It’s going to be really interesting to compare the barley yields between these two different forms of human urine.
In the two photos you can see Hushållningssällskapet Gotland, our local agricultural consultancy partners, using a seed drill to plant the barley and the solid urine fertilizer! Can’t wait to share the results!
We are extremely happy to share our latest milestone – something that we set as a aim almost ten years ago – to produce a dry urine fertiliser with the same nutrient content as that of synthetic fertilisers so that we can replace their use in agricultural systems. Earlier this year, we managed to produce the first 20 kg batch of our solid urine based fertiliser, Granurin, with >15% nitrogen content. The urine was collected last year from public urinals on Gotland as part of the N2Brew project, and treated by Sanitation360 AB, with final processing and fertiliser pelletisation done at SLU – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences by Bjorn, Jenna and Prithvi.
Several members and PhD students of the ETE department (Environmental Technology) at Wageningen University & Research visited SLU earlier this month. We enjoted several interesting presentations from Miriam van Eekert, Huub Rijnaarts, Cecilia Lalander and Prithvi Simha which were followed by great discussions and a poster session where all PhD students got to showcase their research. We all also got to play a serious game which was facilitated by Jennifer McConville. It was a great day and we really look forward to future collaboration with ETE.
Last week Caitlin Courtney joined Dyllon Randall in Uppsala as part of the August T Larsson Guest Researchership that is hosted at #SLU by Prithvi Simha and Bjorn Vinneras. As part of this grant from SLU, Dyllon, who is an A/Prof. at the University of Cape Town, will be associated with our group as a guest researcher and visit Uppsala for 1-2 months/year, for the next three years. Exciting!
We had many discussions and brainstorming sessions about urine treatment technologies and nutrient recycling, with a growing list of new things to investigate. They also got to meet new urine researchers and see the SLU lab and urine collection facilities. Soon, Dyllon will also travel with the rest of our group to Gotland where we are hosting a demo day, showcasing our urine recycling approach and toilets/companies that are enable this paradigm shift in wastewater treatment. As Dyllon says in his recent LinkedIn post, “the future of pee-cycling is indeed bright 😊”.
Funding for a new project “On-farm biochar filters for removal of organic micropollutants from reclaimed water for agricultural irrigation” has been approved by the Swedish Agricultural Research Foundation. The main applicant is Oksana Golovko from the Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment at SLU, with co-applicants Prithvi Simha from our research group and the biochar producer Waila on Gotland. Together with their newly hired PhD student, Maximilian Tyka, and Researcher Alberto Celma, they will carry out this project over the next four years.
Abstract: The use of safely reclaimed water for agriculture irrigation is a promising solution to address water shortages, especially on Gotland. One primary concern is the introduction of organic micropollutants (OMPs), such as pharmaceuticals and other chemicals, into the agricultural ecosystem and food chain. OMPs can be potentially persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic and could harm human health if they are present in agricultural products. This project aims to develop techniques to remove OMPs from reclaimed water using biochar, so that it can be safely reused for agricultural irrigation of food crops. The objectives are to 1) identify the most relevant OMPs in reclaimed water, 2) assess the capacity of biochar prepared from different renewable feedstock for removal of OMPs, 3) evaluate the thermal degradation of OMPs during re-pyrolysis/regeneration of biochar, and 4) communicate the results with food industry stakeholders.
SLU and Sanitation360 will be hosting “Demo Day – Urine to Fertilizer”. We are what we eat and what we eat is what we excrete. Urine contains 80% of the plant nutrients we consume. Thesenutrients can and should be re-used as fertilizer. If you would like to learn about how we can re-use the nutrients in our urine as fertilizer, come and attend. You will also have the opportunity to touch and sit on toilets that are enabling this to happen. When: June 13th @ 16h00 Where: KULTURUM, Specksrum 6, 621 55 Visby, Gotland
Can we evaporate water from acidified fresh human urine to produce a solid fertiliser? Yes, we can! In our latest article in Science of the Total Environment (STOTEN), my colleagues (Anastasija Vasiljev, Dyllon Randall and Bjorn Vinneras) and I show how human urine can be treated to produce fertilisers with nutrient content similar to that of blended synthetic/mineral fertilisers sold on the market. In fact, we can produce a fully #biobased#urine#fertiliser containing more than 20% nitrogen by dosing fresh urine with organic acids and dehydrating it in ambient conditions. So dig into our article if you’re as fascinated by #urinechemistry as we are, because we also attempt to understand the factors that affect the recovery of nitrogen-containing organic compounds in urine.
Producing fertilisers from urine-derived nutrients is highly relevant in today’s context, where globally the increase in fertiliser prices is affecting food production and causing more global hunger. On the other hand, segregating urine at source and safely #recycling it also one “beyond the business as usual” approach to achieving the sustainable development goal on water and sanitation #SDG6, a goal whose targets we are in serious risk of not meeting by 2030.
We therefore hope to transfer results from our paper to exciting projects such as P2GreeN and REWAISE EU project where urine recycling systems are being piloted in real-world settings!
We at Kretsloppsteknik are currently giving a hybrid (onsite/online) course on Safe nutrient recycling and management (10 credit) within the
research school Sustainable systems for food, energy and biomaterials (SSFEB). The aim of the course is to give the student knowledge in current waste and wastewater management techniques, with focus on technologies for plant nutrient recovery and reuse. Today, 75% of all biodegradable solid waste is landfilled or dumped and 90% of all wastewater generated is either not treated or only partially treated. In cases when the waste is treated, treatments are not focused on recycling, but rather removal, of plant nutrients, as they can otherwise risk to pollute the environment. If the plant nutrients in the waste and wastewater were collected they could replace 25-50% of the virgin resources used for production of chemical fertilizers used in agriculture. Looking at waste and wastewater as resources is a paradigm shift, and for this shift to happen new technologies and management systems are required. When closing the loop of nutrients there is a risk of recycling unwanted substances as well, e.g. heavy metals and pathogens. Upon completion of the course the student should know the flow of waste and wastewater in society, possible treatment methods for closing the loop of nutrients and the risks associated with closed loop systems, as well as methods for mitigating circulation of unwanted substances.
Håkan Jönsson and Prithvi Simha were very pleased to hear last week that the Kamprad Family Foundation decided to grant them #funding for a two-year project that will address issues with #precipitation of minerals in #sanitation systems that separately collect #urine. Together with Dyllon Randall (an August T Larsson Guest Researcher at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)), they will develop techniques for preventative maintenance/cleaning of toilets. They also plan to develop technologies that capture mineral precipitates at the toilet, thereby preventing their deposits along wastewater pipes. Much of the work in the project will be done in #collaboration with two housing associations in Stockholm, BRF Understenshöjden and BRF Gebers, where urine-separating toilets were installed more than 20 years ago!