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Liquid Gold: Human Urine can be Organic alternative to chemical fertilisers, say Researchers at Kalyani University

An added advantage is that its use would reduce eutrophication -- the process where fertiliser washed off the land cause damaging blooms of plankton in rivers and lakes

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Fertilizers. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Bengaluru, August 29, 2016: Convinced about its medicinal values, Indian scientists had taken a patent on cow urine in 2002. Now, researchers at the International Centre for Ecological Engineering of Kalyani University near Kolkata report that human urine can be used as safe fertiliser “after eight months of storage under closed conditions.”

Urine contains the essential plant nutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — besides some growth-promoting agents like amino acids, glucose and vitamins, says the report by Bara Bihari Jana and his colleagues published in the Indian Journal of Experimental Biology.

On an average, each person excretes almost six kilos of pure plant nutrients via urine, says the report. “The amount of human urine generated daily in a highly-populated country like India can be an important resource if it is managed properly as liquid fertiliser.”

Representational Image of Farming. Image Source: Wikimedia commons.
Representational Image of Farming. Image Source: Wikimedia commons.

Jana’s team had been working for over a decade on the project to test human urine as a replacement for chemical fertiliser. “Earlier we have examined the fertiliser value of human urine for the production of fish food,” he told IANS.

In recent years, human urine as liquid fertiliser is getting attention in Europe and in some Scandinavian countries in view of the promotion of organic farming, says the report.

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The possible presence of disease-causing pathogens in urine had raised some questions. Though storage has been advocated by others for inactivation of bacteria in urine, there has been no study so far to examine this aspect under tropical conditions.

Jana says his latest study aimed at examining the pattern of changes in the counts of coliform bacteria as well as physico-chemical characteristics of human urine during different days of storage under closed conditions in order to identify the optimal storage period of human urine for use as safe fertiliser. The urine for the study was collected from students in the university.

According to the report, the study found that human urine during the storage period “undergoes microbiological and associated chemical changes and becomes highly alkaline”, resulting in death of pathogenic bacteria.

Human Urine sample. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Human Urine sample. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

“We observed that after 253 days of storage under closed condition, the coliform counts were reduced significantly and remained within the safe limit,” the report said.

According to the author, human urine is cheaper and more environment-friendly because hazardous chemical compounds or heavy metals such as cadmium are generally absent or low in human urine compared to commercially available fertiliser.

An added advantage is that its use would reduce eutrophication — the process where fertiliser washed off the land cause damaging blooms of plankton in rivers and lakes.

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“With the results of the present study, it may be concluded that human urine can be used as low-risk fertiliser after its storage for 253 days under prescribed conditions,” the report said. “Further research and extension activities of this work is necessary,” Jana added. “This can be done through NGOs, self-help groups, etc.”

But is the scheme workable?

Jana believes so. “Human urine may be collected daily in community toilets at airports, railway stations, market places, schools, colleges, etc., and stored in containers labelled with the date of collection,” he says.

“The government’s current campaign against open defecation and its plans to provide toilets in each village provides the opportunity to implement the concept by making provision in the toilets for collection of urine and faeces in separate chambers.”

Would it be practical to truck large volumes of urine around for use in agricultural fields across the country? The answer is “yes”, according to the report.

“About 80 per cent of the nutrients contained in human urine can be concentrated in 25 per cent of the original volume by freezing (the urine) which would facilitate transport and storage.” (IANS)

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Reinvent House Painting Using Christmas Trees

Fresh trees and older, abandoned Christmas trees can both be used, according to the researchers.

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The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is lit up during a ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 6, 2016. VOA

The use of a Christmas tree could soon go beyond the festive period as researchers have found that useful products such as paint and food sweeteners can be made from the chemicals extracted from pine needles used in the tree.

“The tree that decorated your house over the festive period could be turned into paint to decorate your house once again,” said researcher Cynthia Kartey from the University of Sheffield in Britain.

Christmas trees have hundreds of thousands of pine needles which take a long time to decompose compared to other tree leaves. When they rot, they emit huge quantities of greenhouse gases which then contribute to the carbon footprint.

CHristmas Tree
The process is sustainable and creates zero waste Pixabay

The major component (up to 85 per cent) of pine needles is a complex polymer known as lignocellulose. The complexity of this polymer makes using pine needles as a product for biomass energy unattractive and useless to most industrial processes.

“My research has been focused on the breakdown of this complex structure into simple, high-valued industrial chemical feedstocks such as sugars and phenolics, which are used in products like household cleaners and mouthwash,” said Cynthia.

The new research showed that with the aid of heat and solvents such as glycerol, which is cheap and environmentally friendly, the chemical structure of pine needles can be broken down into a liquid product (bio-oil) and a solid by-product (bio-char).

Christmas Tree
These chemicals are used in many industries. Pixabay

The bio-oil typically contains glucose, acetic acid and phenol. These chemicals are used in many industries — glucose in the production of sweeteners for food, acetic acid for making paint, adhesives and even vinegar.

The process is sustainable and creates zero waste as the solid by-product can be useful too in other industrial chemical processes, the University of Sheffield said in a statement on Thursday.

Also Read: Paint, Varnish Exposure may Increase Risk of Multiple Sclerosis

Fresh trees and older, abandoned Christmas trees can both be used, according to the researchers. (IANS)