American families may soon be using waterless toilets and recycling their urine, according to new research.
Chemical engineers at the University of Florida have been looking at ways to extract phosphorus – a life-sustaining element – from urine, before it enters the sewage system and becomes diluted.
Since estimates suggest that phosphorous – which occurs as phosphate rocks and is mined for crop fertilizer – could be exhausted in the next 50 to 100 years, urine recycling may be the key to conserving the non-renewable resource in the future.
No, phosphorous is not going to run out in 50 to 100 years.
Today\’s phosphorous reserves are going to run out in the next couple of generations, that\’s true. It\’s also trivial: a useful definition of mineral reserves is the minerals that we\’ve prepared for everyone to use in the next generation or two.
The number that\’s important for running out of something is mineral resources, not reserves. I can never remember whether we have resources of phosphorous for 7,000 or 13,000 years (whichever it is the other is for potassium). And please do note: resources is not some pie in the sky number, some estimate of what we think might be out there. That is total availability, which for phosphorous is either 0.1% or 2.5% of the weight of the entire lithosphere (the other is potassium again). Resources are rocks we know where they are, have a pretty good idea of how much there is and guess that there\’s a reasonable chance we can mine them at today\’s prices, using today\’s technology and make a profit.
Resources are, in effect, what everyone thinks they\’re measuring when we talk about reserves: which is rock that we know, have proven, we know where it is, can mine at today\’s prices and today\’s technologies and make a profit doing so. The important difference being the \”proven\” and this is an extremely costly process, proving it. Because that \”proof\” is to the standards that a bank will lend you the money to go dig it up.
So the basic problem they\’re trying to solve is simply not extant.
Under lab conditions, the researchers were able to successfully extract about 97per cent of the phosphates in urine within five minutes.
They achieved the extraction with a scientific technique called ion-exchange using HAIX resin, which may form the basis of systems to be installed in U.S. homes in the future.
David Brown, chief executive of the Insistution of Chemical Engineers, said of the findings: \’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.
\’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.\’
And the method they\’re using is also redundant. For we already know how to remove the phosphorous at the sewage plant. Something you can imagine is easier: bulk operations normally are.
Think of it this way, a town of 50,000 souls. Perhaps 150,000 toilets in such a town (including offices etc). What\’s going to be easier? Altering all of these toilets to being \”urine only\” and collecting the phosphorous from them individually? Or sticking a machine in the sewage treatment plant?
Quite. It\’s a barking mad solution to a problem that doesn\’t actually exist.