Chemical engineers recycle urine to extract key nutrient

The world is going green, but do we want to go yellow?

Recycling our paper, plastic and metal goods has become common practice, but now scientists are recycling urine to extract precious nutrients before they hit the sewage system.

"Our attitude and whole approach to recycling will need to change as we come under increasing pressure to conserve valuable, non-renewable resources like Phosphorus," chief executive of the Institution of Chemical Engineers David Brown said.

Urine is high in phosphates, one of the key elements needed in order to sustain life; they help to promote good bone and teeth health and are also used as crop fertilizers. The concern is that they are becoming a scarce resource on earth.

“Phosphorus is one of those elements which is vital to life, but its importance is not widely known," Brown explained. "As well as a fertilizer, it has many industrial uses and can be found in products as diverse as processed cheese, fizzy drinks, matches, detergents and toothpaste."

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Researchers at the University of Florida were able to extract up to 97 percent of phosphates from urine in less than five minutes during their lab experiments.

Urine contains high levels of phosphates but once it becomes contaminated and diluted, like in the sewage system, it makes the collection of phosphates more difficult.

The hope is that their findings will lead to larger-scale system to be installed in homes and communities to extract phosphates from their urine before it is rid of its nutritional value.

If successful, expect to see waterless urinals and 'no-mix toilets' in the near future.

“The research is another great example of chemical engineers providing alternative approaches and solutions to the creation of more sustainable approaches to issues like waste water management and recycling.”