A team of UF environmental engineering students is using the power of pee to save the planet.
Ph.D. students Avni Solanki, Stephanie Ishii and Kelly Landry, master’s student Daniella Saetta and undergraduate senior Madelyn Pandorf are developing a process to remove pharmaceutical chemicals from urine so it can be used as a fertilizer.
This past weekend the team presented its project, titled “Feed the UriNation Using Contaminant-Free Fertilizer from Urine,” at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Alexandria, Virginia, in hopes of receiving a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to continue their research.
The team received a $15,000 grant last year as part of the EPA’s P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet sustainable design competition. Other teams that also received the grant competed at the expo for an additional $75,000, Landry said.
They will find out today if they won.
Landry, 25, said urine is already used as a fertilizer, but using charcoal to remove chemicals that could harm the environment is a new step in that process.
“Urine source separation is definitely a disruptive technology,” Ishii, 27, said. “You’re not just adding in an additional treatment process, but literally changing the whole system. We’re starting all the way back at the toilet.”
Landry said the team performed lab tests to perfect the process and analyzed existing data to determine the economic impact it could have in different societies.
Ishii said using urine to fertilize crops would simplify wastewater treatment.
It could also provide a cheaper alternative to synthetic fertilizer in underdeveloped countries, Landry said.
“It could definitely improve their quality of life by providing their basic need of food,” Landry said.
Landry, Ishii and 25-year-old Solanki all said they are excited to present their project to the public.
Working on the project has made the team members aware of the value of their own urine, Ishii said.
“You know that feeling you get when you throw away a recyclable item in a trash can, like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t have done that’?” she said. “We get that same feeling every single time we pee.”
[A version of this story ran on page 8 on 4/13/2015 under the headline “UF students compete for grant to make fertilizer from pee”]
From left: Avni Solanki, 25, Kelly Landry, 27, and Stephanie Ishii, 27, all UF environmental engineering Ph.D. students, stand in a lab in the new engineering building next to urinals that they use to test part of the process they developed to purify human urine so it can be used to fertilize crops. They and the rest of their team will present their research in Alexandria, Virginia this weekend in hopes of winning more funding for the project.