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A wee plan for crops

Human urine could be successfully recycled to fertilise crops, according to civil engineering researchers at the University of Sydney.

August 12, 2014 3:04am

Human urine could be successfully recycled to fertilise crops, according to civil engineering researchers at the University of Sydney.

Senior lecturer at the school of civil engineering and expert in environmental modelling Federico Maggi said there was growing evidence the use of human urine in agriculture was completely viable.

‘‘Our preliminary results indicate that human urine can be effectively used extensively in agriculture to reduce the production and use of mineral commercial fertilisers,’’ Dr Maggi said.

‘‘It contains the highest levels of nutrients among all the human excreta and yields considerable amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

‘‘These are the most essential nutrients for the growth of plants, and substantially all micro-nutrients.’’

The researchers believe the model they have developed could be used to increase the effectiveness of urine fertilisation as well as crop yield, substantially lowering costs in terms of supplied nutrient.

Fiona Tang studied the use of urine during her Bachelor of Civil Engineering degree and said human urine had complex compounds that could be broken down into simpler molecules that plants and crops liked as food sources.

‘‘Soybean, cabbage, cauliflower, for example, flourish with it,’’ Miss Tang said.

As part of her studies, Miss Tang conducted a survey into attitudes towards the use of human urine as a substitute for mineral fertiliser.

She found there was a high acceptance level to its application in agriculture.

‘‘Human waste has been used as organic fertiliser since ancient times. Its use in agriculture is still commonly practised in many areas around the world, including parts of South-East Asia and Africa,’’ Miss Tang said.

‘‘Over 70 per cent of the respondents in the survey were very positive towards the idea of applying human urine in agriculture and were willing to buy and consume crops grown by urine-based fertiliser.’’

She said extensive reliance on mineral fertiliser was consuming copious amounts of fossil energy and mineral resources.

‘‘Phosphorus, especially, is depleting and some studies have revealed the reserves of phosphate rock that are economically exploitable will only last for about 100 years at current extraction rates.

‘‘Recycling nutrients from human urine is a promising solution to the depletion of mineral resources.’’

The researchers said it would be possible to design a toilet system that separated human waste at the point of deposit.

‘‘Years ago society baulked at the idea of separating their household waste into recyclable and non-recyclable bins, now in Australia it is second nature,’’ Dr Maggi said.

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