UNH whiz kids launch urine recycling project
DURHAM — A group of University of New Hampshire students plans to collect human urine as part of a research project aimed at diverting liquid waste from treatment plants and instead using it as fertilizer.
With the town of Durham as a client, the foursome of whiz kids plans to roll out a urine-collection vehicle on March 20 as part of a serious senior project that's inviting jokes along the way. For example, the project has earned UNH senior Taylor Walter the nickname "Queen Pee" from her parents.
A student of Nancy Kinner, UNH professor of civil and environmental engineering, Walter learned that peak time for nitrogen in Durham's waste treatment stream occurs Thursday through Saturday nights, when the student population is consuming extra liquid beverages.
"Eighty percent of the nitrogen going to the treatment plant is human urine," Walter said.
Diverting that 80 percent from the plant would reduce town costs, as well as aid in protecting the Oyster River and Great Bay, she said.
To that end, the students plan to collect student urine in donated plastic bins that will be housed in a shed and towed on a trailer to a downtown Durham parking lot.
"We want to deal with all the liquid," said Adam Carignan, a UNH senior majoring in environmental engineering.
"We need urine, and they have it," said student Elizabeth McCrary.
"It's not only helping the environment, it's helping students," echoed Packhem.
The "pee bus" will debut March 20 in a lot at Garrison Road and Strafford Avenue, from 9 p.m. until 1 a.m.
The research students will be there educating the public about their project and aim to collect 264 gallons of urine during the first round.
Once collected, the urine will be stored at a Durham public works facility for several months to kill pathogens. Alyson Packhem, another UNH environmental engineering student, said granular carbon on the mobile urine collecting vehicle will control odor.
"Pee-pare yourself," she joked.
"Urine luck," McCrary added.
Walter said several landowners have volunteered to have the seasoned urine dispersed on their fields after the students receive a Department of Environmental Protection research permit.
By summer, the students hope to apply the urine to farm fields and see how it acts as a fertilizer, McCrary said.
As the senior project progresses, the students have been working with staff from UNH and Durham, Walter said.
Looking ahead, they're thinking about related innovations that could earn them patents, including an add-on to collect and recycle urine inside portable toilets.
They also plan to tow their urine-collecting shed to football games, outdoor concerts and a UNH "Solar Fest" in April.
"We want to put toilet talk back on the table," McCrary said.<!--break-->