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November 13, 2018

Processing human urine to recycle nutrients into fertilizer

Engineering a system that transforms human urine from a waste product into a fertilizer for more sustainable agriculture

This sustainable agriculture research relies on a unique contribution from humans -- urine. And, once you get beyond the "giggle" factor, it's an idea that is proving itself worthy of investigation.

Fertilizer is made of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that require energy to produce. Human urine is full of those same nutrients, but we literally flush them down the toilet. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), University of Michigan environmental engineer Nancy Love and a team that includes the non-profit, Rich Earth Institute, are fine-tuning new methods to process human urine into fertilizer. The team wants to create a more sustainable fertilizer while at the same time eliminating a waste that contributes to water pollution.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1639244, INFEWS/Track 3: Advancing Technologies and Improving Communication of Urine-Derived Fertilizers for Food Production within a Risk-Based Framework. The INFEWS Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems -- awards aim to help decision makers better address human needs and protect the natural world. The INFEWS goals for scientists and policy makers include a new understanding of the food-energy-water system, insights from innovative modeling, and cutting-edge technologies to reduce waste and increase efficiencies.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.