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US (WV): WVU researcher developing technology that recycles urine for fertilizer

A U.S. researcher is developing a technology that would enable urine treatment to happen quickly, thus promoting the recovery of nitrogen that can be sold as agricultural fertilizer.

Kevin Orner, a West Virginia University (WVU) Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources assistant professor, is developing a technology that can treat urine on-site rather than at a remote, centralized wastewater treatment facility. The technology could reside underneath a toilet, enabling urine treatment to happen quickly and promoting the recovery of nitrogen, a nutrient that can be sold as a fertilizer.

Orner’s findings, published in the journal Environmental Technology, make urine recycling more feasible in terms of integration into existing infrastructure and could reduce the number of nutrients that enter lakes and rivers. Waste recycling isn’t a new concept. Farmers have long used manure to enrich soil and urine to repel pests. Processes for turning feces into fertilizer have been implemented on an industrial scale, and infrastructure and programs for recycling human urine are already operating in places like Nairobi, Kenya, and Brattleboro, Vermont.

For Orner, he envisions toilets that separate urine and feces, allowing each of those waste products to be collected, treated, and converted into useful agricultural fertilizer. The approach Orner sees as most viable requires no power to operate. A urine-separating toilet’s design separates solids from liquids, then sends the urine to a nutrient recovery unit that’s located in or attached to the toilet itself or potentially housed in a residential or commercial basement.


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