Urine for some fertilizer

By on December 15, 2015

GAINESVILLE, FL It's called the 'Swamp', a stadium that packs more than 90,000 fans when the University of Florida Gators host a home game. If Environmental Engineering Professor Treavor Boyer has his way, this field and all of the people attending the football games will be part of a massive science experiment in sustainability. 

    The experiment would involve re-purposing the abundant amounts of urine produced at the stadium which Boyer views as a resource that is currently going to waste. Urine is nutrient rich, containing high concentrations of nitrogen as well as phosphorous and potassium.   

    "What you'll see is that you can collect enough nitrogen over those seven home football games to meet the nutrient requirements for that field for the growing season," said Boyer.  

  His idea is to stop streaming urine to a waste water facility and collect the pee in giant vats at the stadium instead to then use to fertilize the field.

    "So you collect urine in the storage tank. Then what you want is for it to sit for a period of time, probably on the order of several weeks. That allows it to change chemistry and it is an important change in chemistry where the nitrogen goes from urea, which is excreted from our metabolism and it gets transformed into ammonia." 

    Ammonia is a powerful fertilizer but according to Boyer, separating the urine from the rest of the waste is easier said than done. 

    It's a problem Boyer and his team are tackling in the urine lab. The team is developing the next generation of waterless urinals and newly designed toilets with the goal of harnessing the pee while using just a fraction of the water needed to operate conventional bathrooms.   

    Once collected in a storage tank and after its chemical transformation, the solution can be further processed to extract the nutrients into a solid fertilizer which can be easily transported. 

    Boyer is confident that his team can figure out the science. He says the biggest problem is getting people over the 'ick' factor. 

    "We know a can should get recycled. I don't think most people feel that way about urine, right? Most people don't urinate and be like that should have been recycled and recovered," he said. "My sort of vision of maybe a slightly skewed world that's what I want people to think about every time they urinate, like wow, those are nutrients that could have been saved and re-used," he added.  

    If all goes as planned, the grass at the Swamp will soon be greener in more ways than one. 

About Reuters: Science News