Urine is liquid gold, said Dr James Barnard, this year’s recipient of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.
Half the world’s population cannot afford fertilizer, so it makes sense to use urine, said the 75-year-old, drawing laughter from a room of journalists who had gathered for the press conference.
The South African-born civil engineer had been telling us about the projects he was currently working on, which are based on a method of treating effluent which he had pioneered.
“Seventy to 80 per cent of all the nitrogen in waste water is urine and about 60 to 70 per cent phosphorus,” he explained. “What’s interesting about urine is that it’s free of bacteria, all that it needs is to let it stand and it becomes sterile. If you dilute down, there’s no more odour, it becomes a fertilizer.”
Trivia fans, take note. Half the food consumed in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is grown using urine, and research institutes in Sweden and Switzerland are trying to get developing countries to save and use urine to fertilize food, said Dr Barnard.
Another thing that we learnt: Phosphorus is a limited resource. China and Morocco hold two-thirds of the world’s supply of phosphorus, followed by South Africa and Jordon.
“If you dispose it into the sea, it’s gone forever and it cannot be recovered…without phosphorus there cannot be life,” he said.
With phosphorus becoming a strategic material, a number of waste water treatment plants around the world, like the United States and Japan, are recovering phosphorus using Dr Barnard’s biological nutrient removal method and producing them as pellets or crystals.