Urine Treatment

Mankind can no longer ignore the phosphorus, nitrogen and pharmaceutical pollution present in rivers and surface waters all around the world. We are now entering a phosphorus and nitrogen crisis. The World Economic Forum claims that we are now exceeding the planetary boundaries for humanity for nitrogen and phosphorus. We must recycle phosphorus from urine as a reliably dependable toxic metal free form of phosphorus called struvite. 

The nutrients, that mainly arise from human and cattle urine that end up in surface waters, are now causing algal blooms and significantly impacting on the natural biodiversity in the water. https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/zero-pollution/cross-cutting-stories/nutrients  This is caused by wasting and mismanagement of nitrogen and phosphorus that enters indirectly via the groundwater, and more directly by surface run off and discharges into rivers, lakes, and estuaries. Apart from impacts on the health of fish there is often as a result, a danger to dogs and perhaps irritation to children from the water from Irish lakes containing algae.

At its most acute, the water bodies in some areas of the world have become completely dead zones, devoid of all life. https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/effects-dead-zones-and-harmful-algal-blooms Herr Ltd is therefore committed to offering best solutions to the ending of nutrient pollution in our surface water bodies.  

In addition, the pharmaceutical and antibiotic pollution ending up in rivers has also become a global problem. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/world-s-rivers-awash-with-dangerous-levels-of-antibiotics-report-finds-1.3905660 Antibiotic and pharmaceutical pollution is continuously being measured in Irish rivers also.  Harmful levels of antibiotics found in Irish rivers (rte.ie).  How long more can mankind ignore the growing problem of anti-microbial resistance? It’s increasingly likely that doctors in hospitals will not have effective antibiotics to administer to many of their sick patients. The United Nations have stated that this is because of the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria from wastewater getting into our rivers. The UN states that a global health emergency could kill 10 million people by 2050.  https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/world-s-rivers-awash-with-dangerous-levels-of-antibiotics-report-finds-1.3905660

Ollan Herr of Herr Ltd argues that a paradigm shift is needed to address this problem at the “front of the pipe” rather than at the “end of the pipe”, by treating separated urine:  

Herr Phosphorus Recycling System produces Pure Struvite

As a first step in treating separated urine, I recommend using the “Herr Phosphorus Recycling System”. Unlike the current practice, that sends all the wastewater segments into septic tanks and into the municipal sewage collection pipes, this home-based system separates the urine first, and treats it to produce a safe form of phosphorus called struvite. The Herr urine treatment system produces a product called struvite that is almost totally free from toxic metals or pharmaceuticals, making it a safer, more sustainable and a pure, slow-release fertilizer option to use on food crops.

By using this method, we can prevent the phosphorus pollution in domestic wastewater by simply adding and mixing magnesium salt with the separated human urine. The struvite produced from urine has been proven to be safe-to-use, with as much as 90% of the phosphorus removed by this method.

The benefits of this approach are significant. By recovering pure non-toxic phosphorus, we can reduce our dependence on mining and extraction of phosphorus rock to produce fertilizers, which is essential to feed the growing global population. Scientists are warning of a looming fertiliser shortage, and the latest emerging concern predicts that mineral-based phosphorus fertilizers will become unaffordable over the coming 30 years or so.

Given these challenges, it is crucial that we act now. The “Herr Phosphorus Recycling Reactor” offers a practical solution to end the discharge of untreated, or inadequately treated wastewater from septic tanks, towns, and urban centres. By recycling non-toxic, and metal free phosphorus from urine as struvite, we can contribute to a more sustainable and secure global food supply system.  Families can easily and safely produce phosphorus themselves. 

The photo above shows the phosphorus recycling system after adding and mixing magnesium salt to produce white struvite crystals which settle at the bottom of the conical bottom tank. The bottom white sludge is emptied and is later dried over the following weeks as a phosphorus rich fertiliser.

There is now a growing awareness and urgency for phosphorus recycling as struvite from wastewater. It is so important to ensure that the struvite being recycled is used on food crops with minimal or almost no detectable levels of toxic metals or pharmaceuticals.

With the inevitability of future resource restrictions and to ensure food security, big changes will have to happen for domestic and municipal wastewater treatment systems in advance of the crisis. I am concerned that the necessary changes are not happening fast enough. Nitrogen and Phosphorus are key resources that mankind needs to manage better from now on, they are freely available for recycling from human excrement. Phosphate fertiliser ‘crisis’ threatens world food supply | Environment | The Guardian

Why urine treatment to recycle phosphorus matters.

  • Half of the global population depend on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser to grow food crops. 
  • The remaining global reserves of natural gas and coal presently used to make synthetic nitrogen fertiliser will eventually become expensive and diminish.  Mankind is ignoring the opportunity that urine contains 70% or more of the nitrogen that should we waste into the environment, when instead it should be recovered and recycled.
  • Ideally Uisce Éireann should be collecting the urine to produce phosphorus and also the nitrogen fertilisers in commercial quantities.  Almost half of the food we eat around the world is grown with synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.
  • Where there is no collection of urine by UÉ however, domestic houses can use the Herr urine to struvite treatment system to recycle over 90% of the phosphorus and also recover 10% of the nitrogen.  

With all the very hot weather and floods summer, is now more urgent calls from the International Panel on Climate Change to keep within the carbon budget. The Scientists are calling on Governments for an end to the burning of fossil fuels over the coming 3 decades. The consequence of doing so however is that there may be shortages in the availability of sulphuric acid from fossil fuel flue gas scrubbing. This acid however is so important and necessary for the production of phosphoric acid to make phosphate fertilisers. https://rgs-ibg.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/geoj.12475  The shortage of sulphur acid, so necessary for the production of mineral phosphorus fertiliser will result in a potential resource crisis that could indeed threaten food security as the world decarbonises. Herr Ltd is very concerned of the situation that Irish and global governments have not yet adjusted their wastewater policy to address this problem.  

  • There have been general calls from the EU to begin the recycling phosphorus from wastewater, but there is no EU specific obligations to so under the Draft Urban Wastewater Directive. The new struvite recovery plant in Ringsend sewage Dublin is not at present sending the struvite to Irish farmers as a safe to use fertiliser. It’s a marvellous phosphorus removal system, but the produced struvite is not pure enough to recycle to the food chain. Herr Ltd believes that any shortage of phosphorus that fails to meet the ever-growing global demand for fertiliser will result in unaffordable food prices.   
  • Septic Tanks are so wasteful of nutrients where nitrogen and phosphorus end up in the ground and the ground water. In addition, the sewage sludge is not the ideal toxic free form of fertiliser to be using on the farm. All the current imperfect recovery of nitrogen and phosphorus to farms and the wasting of nutrients in ground water, is causing surface water pollution resulting in algal blooms in the summer.  
  • In addition, with climate change the phosphorus in the soil is being washed into rivers. The world is rapidly losing its top-soil. Our farming is increasingly unsustainable

As a second step after the phosphorus has been removed, the remaining urine can be further treated by passing the urine through granulated activated carbon filter. It is suggested however that the filters should be changed at least every 4 to 6 months.   https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589914720300177  

The scientists say that on-site removal of pharmaceuticals from source-separated urine could be an effective way to reduce the discharge of organic micropollutants to the environment. It is estimated that 64% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients are excreted with urine and the rest with the faeces.

As a third step in addition to this and as a further safety measure Herr ltd offers systems to automatically grow flowers from rainwater diluted urine. This very attractive system will bio absorb the remaining phosphorus, nitrates, potash, and any remaining pharmaceuticals from the urine. For most of the year, assuming we have scaled the system correctly, the growing of enough flowers actually results in a zero discharge from the urine. Perennial flowers should be grown in a heated conservatory or frost protected glasshouses. In operating this you will need to be occasionally add rainwater to the urine, since the transpiration rates of the growing plants may exceed the volume of urine and rainwater liquid first added into the hydroponic system. For most practical situations, given the glazed spaced required, the Herr Ltd hydroponic systems are most likely to be suitable for two person families.

Vertical flower garden

The flower growing system is in an attached greenhouse. The hydroponic growing of flowers and plants using separated human urine is happening without odours. The flowers grow in the diluted urine and are forced to bio absorb any pharmaceuticals, phosphorus, and nitrogen in the urine. The photograph taken in September shows a vertical flower growing wall that bio accumulates the remaining nutrients in the urine. It works more reliably without accumulating sludge if it is used as a follow up stage after the phosphorus / struvite has first been recovered.

Herr Ltd is offering this sustainable urine treatment system is strictly for enthusiastic gardeners and eco enthusiasts.

As a fourth step. The falling leaves are eventually harvested and used in an outdoor compost heap along with toilet solids that were previous composted using earthworms, and waste food from the kitchen.   

For the 60 litre Struvite Reactor delivered with a supply of salt, the operational manual – Cost €3,200 + vat. 

For the 80-plant hydroponic flower growing system with growing bed for comfrey – Cost €6,200 + vat.