As the infrastructure in the United States ages, it serves as an opportune time to rethink use and reuse of natural resources. Urine contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium--nutrients that are essential for plants to grow. Therefore, Professor Nancy Love, her team, and collaborating institutions have explored the technology, risks, and regulations associated with urine separation, concentration, sanitization, and preparation for re-use as fertilizer.
For the past several years, the University of Michigan research team has been collaborating with the Rich Earth Institute, a non-profit research institute in Brattleboro, VT. Rich Earth has been using urine and its products as fertilizer since 2012. Working together, the Michigan and Vermont teams are studying the effectiveness and safety of using urine-derived products as fertilizer for all kinds of crops. In order to do so, researchers have developed several different processing methods with the goal of removing trace pharmaceuticals and pathogens.
Normally, when urine enters the wastewater stream, it carries with it the majority of the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that people take in when they eat. Many wastewater treatment plants do what they can to remove these nutrients before the wastewater effluent reaches water bodies since these nutrients, though important for plant growth, can cause eutrophication, harmful algal blooms and fish kills when they reach bodies of water in high concentrations. Unfortunately, the processes used to remove nutrients can be costly and energy-intensive. Further, not all treatment plants are equipped to remove nutrients, and would need significant (and expensive) upgrades to meet environmental protection needs.
The project team is assessing if diverting urine will be a less energy intensive and more cost-effective way to reduce the nutrient loads in wastewater effluents and create fertilizer for agriculture.
Special bathrooms were installed at U-M, including a urine-diverting toilet and a urine-diverting urinal, where the urine flows through a series of pipes into the Urine Processing Room in the basement of the building. The urine goes through a series of processing steps that serve to concentrate it, sanitize it, and prepare it for re-use as fertilizer. This small scale system is a prototype for how urine separation for processing can be done in larger buildings.
In 2018, the team compared several different urine-derived fertilizers to conventional fertilizers. Using lettuce, carrots, and hay as test crops, they compared the efficacy, safety and environmental impacts of urine-derived fertilizers and conventional fertilizers. Additionally, they are engaging in social research and market research to understand how the public and relevant stakeholders such as farmers, regulators, wastewater treatment plant personnel, and legislators perceive urine-derived fertilizers.
To learn more about this project, please contact Nancy Love, Principal Investigator, at email@example.com.
The project aims to reduce energy use of vehicular travels by incentivizing individual travelers to adjust travel choices and driving behaviors.
Using autonomous sensors and valves to create “smart” stormwater systems to reduce flooding forecasting, and improve water quality.
Using wireless sensors to monitor water quality and flow conditions and to control drains to Ox Creek in Benton Harbor.
Optimizing phosphorus removal at Detroit’s water treatment facility, to keep it out of lakes and rivers.
Investigating the use of cutting-edge molecular tools that characterize and optimize water quality process performance.
Improving Benton Harbor’s aging water system using risk assessment and risk analysis techniques, as well as mobile sensors.
Limiting the volume of stormwater in the Detroit system to prevent untreated sewage from being released into the Detroit and Rouge Rivers.
Using big data, data mining, and artificial intelligence to improve performance of the highly advanced Grand Rapids Water Resource Recovery Facilities.
Using remote sensing and security camera data to better understand how people are using the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy public spaces.
Application of real-time sensing and dynamic control on existing wastewater infrastructure to reduce the frequency and volume of Combined Sewer Overflows.
A grassroots train-the-trainer program on how to install, operate and maintain faucet-mounted point-of-use filters to protect for lead in drinking water.
Borchardt and Glysson Collegiate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Dr. Nancy G. Love is the Borchardt and Glysson Collegiate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan. She previously served as chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and as Associate Dean in the University of Michigan’s Rackham School of Graduate Studies. She previously taught at Virginia Tech.
Dr. Love’s research interests include water quality and environmental biotechnology. Specifically, she studies the fate of toxins and pharmaceuticals in wastewater, as well as the technologies that can be used to remove these chemical stressors.
Dr. Love holds a PhD in Environmental Systems Engineering from Clemson University (1994) and both a Masters of Science (1986) and a Bachelors of Science (1984) in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Director of Graduate Studies in Chemistry
Professor of Chemistry
Diana Aga, Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo (UB), received her BS in Agricultural Chemistry degree from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños in 1988, and her Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry degree from Kansas University (KU) in 1995. She subsequently moved to Zurich, Switzerland in 1996 to conduct postdoctoral research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG). Dr. Aga is a professor in Analytical and Environmental Chemistry at UB, with expertise in the development of sensitive analytical methods for the detection of chemical contaminants in the environment. Her research program centers on investigating the environmental chemistry, biological and ecological effects, and mitigation strategies of legacy and emerging contaminants in the environment, such as antimicrobials, persistent organic pollutants, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and engineered nanomaterials. Dr. Aga’s recent work showing bioaccumulation of antidepressants in brains of fish from the Great Lakes has been highlighted in the national and international newspapers because of their impact on the biodiversity of fish population in one of the world’s most important fresh water body. Dr. Aga has also demonstrated the widespread occurrence of antibiotics in the environment due to wastewater discharges and land-application of animal manure, resulting in promotion and spread of antibiotic resistance in non-clinical environments. She serves as editor of the Journal of Hazardous Materials, an Elsevier international journal, which publishes research papers on environmental control, risk assessment, impact and management.
Founder, Rich Earth Institute
Abraham Noe-Hays is a co-founder of the Rich Earth Institute, and currently directs its research into nutrient reclamation from source-separated human urine. The Institute operates the nation’s first community-scale urine recycling program in Brattleboro, Vermont, collecting urine from approximately one hundred participants and supplying sanitized fertilizer products to nearby farms. Current research projects are supported by the USDA and NSF, and include an INFEWS partnership with the University of Michigan that is developing novel methods for producing urine-derived fertilizers. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic.
Director, Michigan Sustainability Cases
Coordinator, Environmental Justice Certificate
Professor Hardin’s areas of interest and scientific study focus on the increasingly intertwined practices of health, environmental management, and corporate/community interactions in Africa and the U.S.A. She has directed case based research on environmental justice movements within the U.S., connecting them to the international Environmental Justice Atlas. She has also advised a team assessing groundwater and surface water resources across the African continent, and advising the Global Environment and Technology Foundation about how to make a better business case for water related investment by businesses in Africa. She teaches and mentors students interested in international environmental practice and policy, wildlife management, and the cultural politics of global health practice, especially as concerns water quality monitoring and protection. That work is presently focused with the REFRESCH initiative in the country of Gabon, one of the richest in water and wildlife on the entire African continent. She is building case based curricular tools for international Sustainability Science as Director of the Michigan Sustainability Cases, hosted on the open access Gala Platform. Rebecca also supports co-curricular opportunities for student work in environmental media such as the weekly environmental podcast and “blogcast” It’s Hot in Here, airing at noon on Fridays on WCBN FM Ann Arbor. Her book with Kamari Clarke, Transforming Ethnographic Knowledge explores the discipline of anthropology as a set of skills and tools for social change in sectors as different as business, biological conservation, conflict resolution, and biomedical care.
Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Dr. Krista Rule Wigginton received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech and her B.S. in Chemistry at the University of Idaho and conducted postdoctoral research at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 2013, she joined the faculty in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan as an assistant professor of environmental engineering. Dr. Wigginton’s research team focuses on pollutant fate in water treatment processes, and on improving pathogen and micropollutant detection. She’s the recipient of the U.S. NSF International Postdoctoral Fellowship and the NSF CAREER award.