Urine as a source of drinkable water and fertilisers


Researchers of Ghent University (UGent) have developed a remarkable method to convert urine into clean water. The process also allows the recovery of fertilisers for plants. Moreover, the treatment technique is climate friendly as it relies on solar energy.

This year the Gentse Feesten were the scene of a very special experiment. Researchers of UGent joined the festivalgoers and collected their urine to extract pure water and fertilisers. Indeed, urine contains 70% of all useful fertilisers found in wastewater, even though it only represents 1% of the total volume of wastewater. It is therefore better to use urine straight from the source, before it's diluted by sewage water.

According to professor Verliefde of UGent, three important industries will benefit from the concept. First, airports and football stadiums deal with large numbers of people, which can cause sanitary issues. Secondly, festivals are faced with logistical problems concerning wastewater. Finally, we have the developing countries, which will benefit most from the innovative purification method since the lack of drinking water and available commercial fertilisers can be compensated with this method. "The urine collected from one person over the course of one year, provides sufficient fertilisers to fertilise 135 kg of corn," according to the Ghent professor.

Sadly the concept struggles with an image problem. After all, it isn't easy to convince people of this method as it is, as it were, a smelly business. That is why this September Ghent University is launching a pilot project in South Africa to purify urine on a large scale. This will also familiarise the local population with the project, thus enabling the researchers to ascertain whether they are willing to accept the concept.

Brewery 'de Wilde Brouwers' is already putting Ghent University’s treatment technique into practice. The beer 'From Sewer to Brewer' is being brewed with purified wastewater originating from the water company IWVA. Next year the brewery will most likely introduce a new version of the beer based on purified urine. With this beer, the brewery wants to demonstrate that the decline of groundwater levels does not pose an insurmountable obstacle to brewing beer.