Looming Phosphorus Shortage May Prompt Recovery from Urine

Well, we are all in trouble if we have to start recycling our urine to save the world's phosphorus supply. I remember having to lug the porta potty chamber from my grandparents' cottage and dispose of it in the flush toilet up the hill. OK – I didn't have to do it, my dad did. But it was still a gross thing to watch. I was always freaked out by the fact that the contents could slosh around and land on the floor. And don't get me started on the smell of stale tinkle.

Yes, I know I am being a baby considering running water is a luxury many folks around the world aren't privy to. So I will stop complaining and get on with the news: Current estimates suggest that phosphorus production could peak by 2030 and could be exhausted in the next 50-100 years. Chemical engineers at the University of Florida are exploring ways of extracting precious nutrients such as phosphates from urine before it enters the sewage system.

This news means that household recycling takes a new direction in the future with the introduction of waterless urinals and ‘no-mix toilets’ to collect urine in near-by storage tanks.

According to an Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) news release, the researchers were able to extract up to 97% of phosphates from urine in five minutes or less, using a technique called ion-exchange using HAIX resin, in a laboratory setting. The findings create the opportunity to run full-size systems, which could form the basis for recovering phosphates from homes and communities in the future.

“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," says David Brown, chief executive of IChemE.

“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,” adds Brown.

Read the full release.

Traci-bio-photo.jpgTraci Purdum is Chemical Processing's senior digital editor and reluctant recycler of urine.