Humans recycle wee into ‘limitless’ fertiliser in bold climate change solution

Fans of beer will know that the only real downside of drinking a few pints is needing the loo afterwards.

Now a team of scientists from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences has devised a method of turning those visits to the smallest room into fertiliser that could potentially be used to grow wheat, hops or barley to make more beer.

While it might seem disgusting to us, from a plant’s point of view urine contains a significant number nutrients, including two chemicals commonly used in fertilisers – phosphorus and nitrogen.

According to the scientists, all you need to do is dehydrate the urine, crush the residue into a powder, and then press that powder into standard-sized pellets ready for farmers to use.

They’ve already tried the process on a small scale on the Swedish island of Gotland.

Gotland, Sweden’s largest island in Sweden, is always short of fresh water, and pollution caused by the runoff from agriculture and sewer systems is a constant problem.

The small-scale project on the island has so far been a major success, helping grow a healthy field of barley that compares with a crop fertilised by conventional means.

Apart from providing a supply of fertiliser, the process, if it could be scaled up, would take a lot of pressure off sewers and cut down on blooms of algae in coastal waters that making fishermens’ lives difficult.

To industrialise the process wold be a mammoth undertaking, involving a rethink of the way we transport and process sewage in our major cities, but if it could be pulled doff we’d have a limitless supply of eco-friendly fertiliser that could benefit all sorts of farmers, not just hop-growers.

Prithvi Simha, a chemical process engineer at the university and chief technology officer of Sanitation360, the project’s spinoff company, told Nature that the goal is to make urine recycling something that’s actually practical.

The aim to take urine reuse “beyond concept and into practice” on a large scale, he says, and “the ambition is that everyone, everywhere, does this practice,” Simha said.

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