Australian researchers wish you pees on Earth


Queensland scientists devise a novel way to make fertiliser.


Liquid gold, apparently.
Liquid gold, apparently.
Marcos Ferro

Researchers from the University of Queensland and Queensland Urban Utilities in Australia have struck gold in the most unlikely of places — the toilet. Two years of intensive research has shown that macronutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as certain micronutrients, can be extracted from urine in situ.

The technology, dubbed UGold, uses microbial electrochemical systems (MESs) to convert the chemical energy trapped within biodegradable substances into usable chemical components. In this case, MESs up-concentrate and extract the nitrogen and phosphorus within urine, for potential use in fertilisers.

Nitrogen and phosphorus make up an integral part of agricultural fertilisers, and are in high demand. The current processes involved in separating them from waste water require vast amounts of energy and are damaging to waterways.

A nine-month pilot trial is on the books, to test the feasibility of this novel technology with UQ chemical engineer Stefano Freguia at the helm. It will take place at the Queensland Urban Utilities Innovation Centre. Waterless urinals will work as the site of collection, and will be connected to an adjacent laboratory, where the magic will happen. A garden will be nourished with the fertiliser produced using the UGold technology.

If successful, this could lead to similar onsite treatment plants being installed in places like offices, apartment blocks and shopping centres.

Explore #urination
Geetanjali Rangnekar is a science communicator and editor, based in Adelaide, Australia.
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