90 Miles From Tyranny : Can pee help feed the world?

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Can pee help feed the world?

Engineer Fabien Esculier has never forgotten his grandmother's unconventional approach to gardening -- in fact, it has inspired his career.

Human urine may seem like a crude way of fertilizing plants in the era of industrial agriculture, but as researchers look for ways to reduce reliance on chemicals and cut environmental pollution, some are growing increasingly interested in the potential of pee.

Plants need nutrients -- nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium -- and we ingest these through food, before "excreting them, mostly through urine", said Esculier, who runs the OCAPI research program in France looking at food systems and human waste management.

This presents an opportunity, scientists think.

Fertilisers using synthetic nitrogen, in use for around a century, have helped drive up yields and boost agricultural production to feed a growing human population.

But when they are used in large quantities, they make their way into river systems and other waterways, causing choking blooms of algae that can kill fish and other aquatic life.

Meanwhile, emissions from this agricultural ammonia can combine with vehicle fumes to create dangerous air pollution, according to the United Nations.

Chemical fertilisers also create emissions of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, contributing to climate change.

But the pollution does not just come directly from the fields.

"Modern-day sanitation practices represent one of the primary sources of nutrient pollution," said Julia Cavicchi, of the United States Rich Earth Institute, adding that urine is responsible for around 80 percent of the nitrogen found in wastewater and more than half of the phosphorus.

To replace chemical fertilisers, you would need many times the weight in treated urine, she said.

Could human urine play a role in making agriculture more sustainable? STR AFP/File

But she added: "Since the production of synthetic nitrogen is a significant source of greenhouse gases, and phosphorus is a limited and non-renewable resource, urine diverting systems offer a long-term resilient model for human waste management and agricultural production."

One 2020 study by UN researchers found that global wastewater has the theoretical potential to...

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mer said...

Anyone with a dog and a lawn already knows this. The brown spots surrounded by thick lush grass are because your dog peed there. The center is brown because too highly concentrated, diluted towards the edge so it fertilizes.

JungleJetter67 said...

Paragraph 5 "...synthetic nitrogen..."? WTF? Nitrogen is nitrogen is N2 no matter how it is created. There's no FrankenN2. BS

Bear Claw Chris Lapp said...

Its Urea, ergo urine. Diluted makes great fertilizer that's why I spread mine on the lawn. The fresh air is good for you.