Urine test: Michigan researchers find environmental benefits to 'peecycling'

Petoskey Waste Water Treatment Plant photo by Odalaigh.

Happy Wednesday, everyone. My mind is in the toilet today after reading about a newly released study led by the University of Michigan involving “peecycling,” or removing and reusing urine from the wastewater stream to achieve environmental benefits. The study found that urine diversion at the city scale could be a way to reduce energy use and the amount of wastewater treatment a city needs while producing a renewable crop fertilizer, because urine is rich in the nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. About half of the global food supply depends on fertilizer made from non-renewable resources, and water or wastewater systems consume about 2% of the U.S. electricity supply.

  • The study modeled large-scale urine diversion and fertilizer processing systems and compared the expected environmental outcomes with traditional wastewater treatment and fertilizer production methods. The simulated systems showed significant reductions — 26% to 64%, depending on the category — in greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, freshwater consumption, and algae bloom potential.

  • “Urine diversion consistently had lower environmental impacts than conventional systems,” said lead author Stephen Hilton in a news release. “Our analyses clearly indicate that the well-defined benefits — reduced wastewater management requirements and avoided synthetic fertilizer production — exceed the environmental impacts of urine collection, processing and transport, suggesting that further efforts to develop such systems are warranted.”

  • Currently no city-scale urine diversion and recycling systems exist. However, small-scale projects are underway in Vermont and at the University of Michigan, where urine-diverting test toilets have been installed on part of the campus for collecting the resource to convert to fertilizer.

  • Further research could address challenges with collection and transportation as well as increased acidification of some urine-derived fertilizers.

🌱 AGRICULTURE: Agtech accelerator America’s Cultivation Corridor launched a six-week virtual program for international startup companies and entrepreneurs seeking mentorship from Iowa’s agricultural leaders on entering the U.S. agtech market and navigating aspects such as sustainability and regulation.

🌽 BIOFUEL: Cee Kay Supplies in Kansas City, Missouri, is the state’s only dry ice manufacturer and is experiencing increased demand for the product for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and storage, reports KCTV. Dry ice is made from carbon dioxide, a byproduct of ethanol production, so a dry ice shortage occurred this summer when the price of fuel dipped and less ethanol was manufactured to incorporate into fuels, a general manager explained.

🚘 TRANSPORTATION:

  • Electric vehicle battery prices fell to $137 per kilowatt-hour this year, an 89% drop since 2010, reports BloombergNEF. Lower battery prices are expected to help drive sales of EVs, many of which are being developed by Detroit’s big three automakers and Midwestern startups including Lordstown Motors, Bollinger Motors, and Rivian.

  • The U.S. Air Force awarded three contracts to the University of North Dakota for work on advanced air mobility devices, or flying cars. UND would help with technology development related to the small, low-cost, electric, and autonomous aircraft, such as operating in hazardous weather and intelligent traffic management.

Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett learns about the Hexa, an electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. Air National Guard photo.

🤝 PARTNERSHIP: Lincolnshire, Illinois-based Camping World and Ohio’s Lordstown Motors are partnering to create a national electric vehicle service and collision network. They’re also exploring new EV products for the RV market.

🏙️ SMART CITIES: Forbes highlights Kansas City startup Dynamhex (previously featured in Centered) and its integrated API software platform to help cities measure their greenhouse gas emissions and visualize reduction strategies. Energy data transparency is important and the key to accelerating public and private collaboration to meet climate goals, said founder Sunny Sanwar.


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