Sustainable Nutrient Recovery from Urine

EPA Grant Number: SU839264
Title: Sustainable Nutrient Recovery from Urine
Investigators: Blaney, Lee
Institution: University of Maryland - Baltimore County
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: I
Project Period: January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2017) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Challenge Area - Water , Sustainability , P3 Awards


Nutrient pollution impairs water and environmental quality. At the same time, ammonia-based fertilizers require high energy consumption and natural phosphorus deposits are being rapidly depleted. To address the inherent threats to human and ecological health from these interrelated food, energy, and water concerns, we propose low-cost recovery of nutrients from urine to prevent not only nutrient pollution, but also the environmental impacts caused by producing ammonia and mining, processing, and transporting phosphorus. The P3 project will promote education about the environment, sustainability, and resource recovery though new course modules, a Capstone Design project, and on-campus demonstrations and survey assessments.


The transformative nature of this proposal stems from our novel approach to selective recovery of nutrients. In fact, Nutrient Extraction and Recovery Device (NERD) technology represents a completely new paradigm for nutrient recovery, and this project will provide the first evidence of its suitability and application to source-separated urine. The low energy, chemical, and water requirements of our proposed process mean that NERDs will be an attractive option for both household- and community-based systems in the developed and developing world.


The technical challenge is to efficiently recover nutrients from source-separated urine without the need for excessive energy or chemical requirements. To address this challenge, our interdisciplinary team will investigate an innovative technology – NERDs. Our Goal is to develop, optimize, and demonstrate NERD technology for recovery of phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium from source-separated urine. We hypothesize that 90% recovery of these critical nutrients can be achieved with minimal energy and chemical requirements. To test this hypothesis, we will investigate the following Specific Objectives:
R.1. Conduct NERD optimization studies using lab-scale reactors to maximize the rate and magnitude of nutrient recovery from synthetic and real urine; and,
R.2. Modify a port-o-potty to include NERD technology, and demonstrate the ability of this unit to recover nutrients from real urine collected on the UMBC campus.

Expected Results:

The research outputs of this project will advance scientific, technical, and social knowledge regarding implementation of sustainable resource recovery technologies. Scientific studies will advance application of NERD technology for urine and deliver the optimal operating parameters to maximize the efficiency and rate of nutrient recovery. As such, the project outcomes will (1) improve human health and well-being through protection of water resources and improved food security, (2) advance economic competitiveness of nutrient recovery processes, and (3) protect the environment by efficiently using water, materials, and energy to recover resources without generating or emitting other wastes or hazardous substances. The technical project will be successful if we are able to achieve greater than 90% recovery of nutrients during on-campus demonstrations. The educational aspects of the project will be evaluated through student surveys in the associated courses, as well as survey tools employed before, during, and after the on-campus demonstration projects.

Supplemental Keywords:

nutrients; resource recovery; water quality; resource integrity; environmental education; resource security; sustainable communities