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uGold trials begin – scientists say that human pee can become an environmentally friendly fertilizer

Posted December 26, 2017

If you broke down human urine into basic elements, you would find rather attractive elements, if we may call them like that. Nitrogen, phosphorus and micronutrients are all very useful, especially if we are talking about agriculture. Now scientists from the University of Queensland are participating in trials of a technology, designed to recover and reuse these elements.

uGold aims to recover nitrogen, phosphorus and micronutrients directly at the waterless toilet in malls, office and appartament buildings. Image credit: Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Nitrogen and phosphorus are commonly used in industrial fertilizers. They are manufactured now already, but the process requires a lot of energy. Recovering these materials from human pee would be a low-energy solution, which is why scientists in Australia have developed this system, cheekily called uGold. Its purpose is to recover nitrogen, phosphorus and micronutrients from human urine directly at the source – at the loo. Scientists have been researching this system for around two years, to make sure it will work effectively, but now a nine month period of trials is about to start.

uGold would create waterless toilets and onsite wastewater treatment plants at high-density offices, apartment buildings and even shopping centres, among other facilities with a lot of loos in one building. If the program works, recovered materials would benefit fertilizer industry, agriculture and the environment. While fertilizing may help the nature to recover from extensive farming, it can also be polluting in itself. Energy, used in fertilizer factories is a major contributor to agricultural pollution in the big picture. And then, of course, there is a fact that recycling is good and toilets would be waterless. Queensland Urban Utilities is participating in this project – this organization already has a poo-powered car which runs on electricity generated from sewage.

All specialists involved are hoping that uGold will prove successful and effective. 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”. However, it will take some time till the project is effectively completed and scientists can begin looking at further steps. For now materials recovered from uGold project will be used to fertilize one garden – scientists will also monitor how well the substance works as a fertilizer.

Despite decades’ worth of research waste water treatment still requires some improvement. Scientists hope that it will be brought by some well-calculated efforts, such as uGold – recovering minerals and micronutrients as close to the source as possible.


Source: University of Queensland

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